In March of 2019, as a joint present for our 40th birthdays, Beth and I took a trip to Scotland. We had visited once for a long weekend back in 2003, staying in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival and taking a van tour to Loch Lomond. But we’ve long loved the country and its various cultural exports and associations (Scotch whisky, Outlander, David Tennant), so we cashed in some airline miles and organized a week’s stay in the country. One day total was eaten up in travel, but here’s what we did over six days in the country. We started and ended in Edinburgh, renting a car and driving a counter-clockwise loop north toward Inverness, around Loch Ness and west over to the Isle of Skye, then back south and east through Fort William, Glencoe, and back to Edinburgh.
Day 1: Edinburgh
- We took the tram from the airport to the city center. They run every 10 minutes, and get you to the city center in 30 minutes.
- Stayed at Hotel du Vin, just a few blocks off the Royal Mile in Old Town
- First stop: cappuccinos at Brew Lab Coffee, near the University of Edinburgh
- Walked up and around Calton Hill, with its monuments and observatory
- Strolled up the Royal Mile toward Edinburgh Castle, stopping to see working looms making tartan at the Tartan Weaving Mill & Experience
- Trekked back down the Mile, stopping for lunch at The World’s End pub
- Spied Outlander filming locations (the outside of Jamie’s print shop in season 3)
- More strolling around Old Town and New Town, marveling at the steep layers of the city, and how streets pass over and under each other, how they’re connected with closes
- Stopping by landmarks like the Greyfriars Bobby statue and The Elephant House, one of the places where J.K. Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter books
- Cocktails at The Printing Press Bar & Kitchen in New Town
- Dinner with friends at Kebab Mahal, an Edinburgh Indian staple since 1979
Day 2: Edinburgh -> Pitlochry -> Kinloch Rannoch -> Culloden -> Lochend
- We woke early our second day and rented a car from Enterprise next to Waverly train station
- Before we left town, we visited Cult Espresso, a long and narrow coffee shop that’s decorated with Legos. Friendly and funny service. Terrific cappuccinos.
- Drove north out of Edinburgh, traversing the new Queensferry Crossing bridge, completed in 2017
- First stop was Edradour Distillery in Pitlochry, where we took a tour around the quaint and picturesque grounds
- Detoured west off the A9 motorway to Kinloch Rannoch to visit the hill where they filmed the Craigh na Dun scenes in Outlander
- We stopped briefly just outside Pitlochry to admire the Queen’s View over Loch Tummel
- And enjoyed a quick dinner of fish and chips at Happy Haggis in Aviemore
- Visited the Culloden National Battlefield outside Inverness, where the Jacobite Uprising lost a crucial battle to the English in 1745, and Scottish clan culture effectively came to an end
- Snuck a little further east to see the Clava Cairns, a collection of real standing stones
- Ended at the Airanloch B&B off the northwest corner of Loch Ness in Lochend
Day 3: Lochend -> Eilean Donan -> Isle of Skye (Carbost, Fiscavaig, Talisker Bay)
- Breakfast at the B&B before setting off south, stopping outside Nessieland and the Loch Ness Centre, visiting a couple shops, and spying the ruins of Urquhart Castle from a distance (you have to pay for admission, and we wanted to keep going)
- But we took a full tour of Eilean Donan castle and had lunch at the cafe there
- Continuing west onto the Isle of Skye, crossing the Skye Bridge and heading to hike the Fairy Pools
- Heading to Carbost for a tour of Talisker Distillery
- Checking in to our AirBnb in Fiscavaig, just west of Carbost
- Hiking to Talisker Bay, easily our favorite moment of the trip. It involves driving down a one-lane road, finding a small car park (near a large private house with sheep grazing around it), then hiking about a half mile to the beach itself. It’s a large circular bay – rocky, windswept, surrounded by cliffs – and absolutely stunning to see, especially at sunset.
- Finishing the day with a hearty dinner and pints at The Old Inn, Carbost
Day 4: Isle of Skye (Portree, Staffin, Uig)
- Enjoyed an incredible Scottish breakfast at our AirBnB
- Explored a little bit of Portree, the capital and largest city on Skye
- Driving up the A855 from Portree toward Staffin, stopping to see Bride’s Veil Falls, Lealt Falls, and eventually Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
- Hiked a bit of the Old Man of Storr. We were deterred from climbing all the way by increasingly heavy snow and sleet that obscured our path.
- Reviving ourselves with tea and cake (and meeting a friendly Scottish terrier) at a little tea and gift shop (which sadly seems to have closed)
- Trying to spy fossilized dinosaur footprints at the water’s edge on An Corran Beach
- Driving north to the tip of the island to pay our respects to Flora MacDonald, reading a little Rabbie Burns at her graveside
- Continuing our trek on the A855, turning southward to hike the Fairy Glen
- Stopping in the town of Uig to see Uig Pottery and Isle of Skye Brewing Co.
- Finishing the night at The Isles Inn in Portree with haggis, neaps, and tatties + and pints of ale, before retiring at our AirBnB in Culnacnoc
Day 5: Isle of Skye -> Fort William -> Glencoe
- Enjoying a lovely breakfast at the AirBnB before hitting the road, stopping at Brothers Point before heading south, detouring to spy the Ornsay Lighthouse, and off the island
- Heading east on the A87 before turning south on the A82 to Fort William
- A seafood-heavy lunch of smoked salmon, mussels, and smoked haddock mac and cheese at The Crannog on the pier in Fort William.
- Strolling through shops in Fort William, having coffee at vegan-focused The Wildcat coffee shop
- Driving west to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter movies
- Continuing our trek down the A82, heading east to our accommodations, the AOS SÍ Lodges in Ballachulish, just west of Glencoe. They’re a collection of lodges set behind an historic home.
- Dinner and pints that night in the cozy Boots Bar at the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe
Day 6: Glencoe -> Doune -> Falkirk -> Edinburgh
- Our final full day! Meandering back east toward Edinburgh, stopping outside Glencoe to see the hill where they filmed Hagrid’s cabin in Harry Potter, marveling at hikers on the Three Sisters
- Grabbing breakfast at The Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum
- A quick visit to Doune Castle (aka Castle Leoch to Outlander fans or the castles from Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
- Checking out the innovative Falkirk Wheel
- Seeing The Kelpies standing guard over the canal locks
- Totally getting photos outside Wardpark Film & Television Studios, where they film Outlander
- Back to Edinburgh to drop off the car at Enterprise, checking in at hub by Premier Inn on Rose Street. The tiny rooms are perfect for a quick overnight.
- Strolling around New Town in Edinburgh, getting coffee at Fortitude Coffee, an amazing dinner at Dishoom on St. Andrew Square, then strolling all the way around the footprint of Edinburgh Castle and down the Royal Mile
- A perfect ending to the night, and the entire trip, singing in the crowded Royal Oak pub with pints in hand
The next day: home.
A Note on Driving
This is the second time I’ve driven in the UK. With a little preparation and patience, it’s not that difficult to adapt to driving on the “wrong” side of the road. A couple keys for us:
- Have your route planned out. Try to take out the surprise factor by knowing where you’re going.
- We relied heavily on GPS. If you’re renting a car, request one with GPS already installed, so you don’t have to rely on your phone.
- Bring a physical map, just in case.
- If at all possible, have a navigator. Someone to help you spot traffic, spy out the correct lane, and give instructions helps immensely.
- When in doubt, just follow the car in front of you.