Road trips in scotland: ancient castles, legendary lakes and the best whisky distilleries
Typical Scottish landscapes with mirror-like lakes, green valleys and rugged mountains stir the hearts of many travelers, promising an excellent prospect for Scotland road trips. There are many sights and places to visit to create an overall impression of the country. Its modest size is to the advantage of tourists, as the main cities are within a few hours drive of each other, so they can be visited in a short period of time. And along the way, experience the beauty of the picturesque coastline, heather-covered hills and snow-capped mountains. It is the idyllic natural scenery and relaxed countryside that captures the hearts of travelers and keeps them coming back again and again.
Exploring Scotland by car helps you plan your stay in the cities, so you can visit selected locations on your own schedule. The roads here are usually well maintained, so driving is not uncomfortable and is a great way to see the colorful Scottish towns and villages, appreciate the sights and feel the atmosphere of these places. Road trips in Scotland allow you to see majestic castles, which in the past were the residences of royalty and powerful clans, ancient churches, visit places where famous battles once took place and visit museums that tell about the history and culture of the country. Along the way, travelers can stop at authentic country pubs, mingle with friendly locals, explore mysterious folklore and set their minds at ease in the solitude of windswept beaches. We'll share a few of the best ideas and fun-filled itineraries to visit so you can translate them into exciting road trip ideas in beautiful, authentic Scotland.
1. North Coast 500
This most famous road trip in Scotland includes 516 miles of magical coastal scenery. It is one of the newest, having only been launched in 2015, but Conde Nast has named it possibly one of the best road trips in the world. Along the way it encounters many delightful fishing villages that alternate with long stretches of golden sand, historic towns and iconic landscapes.
Five to seven days are recommended for this journey. The starting point is the iconic Inverness Castle. From there, you'll be at Dunrobin Castle in just over an hour, which is reminiscent of a typical fairytale castle thanks to its towers and pointed spires. Take a couple of hours to explore its rooms (there are 189 of them, but about two dozen are available for visiting) and stroll through the beautiful garden with fountains, made in the style of Versailles gardens. You'll then keep to seaside Scrabster, where you'll take a ferry to Stromness in the Orkney Islands. During the water portion of the trip, get a proper look at Old Man of Hoy, a 137-meter-high red sandstone cliff.
Day two is dedicated to places to visit in Scotland by car in the Orkney Islands: enjoy stunning scenery and Stone Age ruins, explore the well-preserved Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae. Spend a full day at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites and finish with a relaxing stay in atmospheric Kirkwall. Next morning, return by ferry to Scrabster and proceed to Allapool. Beautiful views of golden beaches, cliffs and mountains await you. Visit the unique Smoo Cave, Britain's largest cave, also notable for containing both sea and fresh water. Visitors are encouraged to follow the trail around the Nocan Crag Nature Reserve to enjoy the stunning mountain scenery.
The fourth day of the itinerary begins with an exploration of the Corrishalloch Gorge and then follows the west coast to the Interview Garden. There you can see 2,500 exotic flowers and other plants that are attracted to the shore by the warmth of the Gulf Stream. On the way to Skye, you should stop at the village of Plockton - there are plenty of points for photos and memorable locations, from Dancaig Castle to filming locations for popular TV series such as Hamish Macbeth with Robert Carlyle.
Spend the next day in Skye. Here you should visit the colorful village of Portree, listed by Condé Nast Traveller as one of the "20 Most Beautiful Villages in Britain and Ireland". Then head out to explore the northern part of the island - the Trotternish Peninsula, Old Man Storr Rock and the lovely Kilt Rock Falls. Day 6 begins to "close the loop" of the itinerary. But first you should visit the colorful Eileen Donan Castle, which has often appeared on the big screen, for example, in the movie "Highlander" (1986) or the 19th part of the Bond film "And the whole world is not enough". Then you will visit the legendary Loch Ness and Arkhart Castle on its shores.
2. Southwest coast 300
This 300 mile road trip around Scotland will make you feel at one with nature. The route takes you through one of the country's little-explored regions through Ayrshire, Dumfries and Gallowshire. You'll explore beautiful coastlines, bays and peninsulas, visit Scotland's southernmost point and the birthplace of Peter Pan.
The route of this Scotland road trip itinerary is designed for 3-5 days. As it is a circular route, you can start from different points, but most often the starting point is the town of Dumfries. Here you should visit the local history and aviation museums, the home and museum of the poet Robert Burns, and the restored Georgian-style Moat Brae tanhouse and surrounding garden that inspired J.M. Barrie's character Peter Pan. Then head to the town of Kirkbride, seeing the 13th-century ruins of Sweetheart Abbey on the way. Kirkbride has a large farmers' market in summer, and you can also sample local cuisine in pleasant cafes overlooking the coast, then go ziplining or take a segway tour. Alternatively, visit the Museum of Christianity on Whithorn Island instead.
Make a stop at the Mall of Galloway lighthouse on the Reens of Galloway peninsula. This is the southernmost point of Scotland. The lighthouse is closed in winter, but the stunning views of the sea and the Isle of Man can be admired all year round. If you have time, also visit the Logan Botanical Gardens on the peninsula.
Drive along the coast to the village of Stranraer, from where the next day you continue your road trip routes in Scotland by car along the ocean to the small town of Girvan. Grab a bite to eat here before heading to the monumental 18th-century Calsin Castle. It's famous for the room of U.S. President Eisenhower, as well as for the legends of the ghosts that live here. The castle is open from the end of March to the end of October, but it is better to specify the exact date of your visit on the castle's website and there you can find out about the program of entertainment for visitors. From here, head to Ayr and the delightful villages of Straiton and Dalmellington before enjoying a romantic dinner under the stars at the nearby Scottish Dark Sky Observatory. An overnight stay is available in Sanquhar. This is a historic town famous for the world's oldest post office, and the village of Wanlockhead nearby, considered the highest in Scotland.
From Sanquhar, the route follows north to the mountain ranges. In the next town of Moffat, stop at the local colorful pubs for a pint of beer, visit the famous toffee store and move on to the town of Lotherby. It became infamous for the 1988 Pan Am airplane explosion and crash, and you'll see echoes of this tragedy in the stained glass Town Hall with flags of the countries of the passengers who were killed, the Garden of Remembrance and Memorial. From Lockerbie you will follow westward, which will close the "ring" in Dumfries.
3. North-East 250
This itinerary offers a road trip around northeastern Scotland, which is famous for Balmoral Castle, Bremar and whisky distilleries. It has as much Scottish atmosphere as it can possibly have. Inspired by the success of the North Coast 500, the route, launched in 2017, features famous landmarks and regions with photogenic landscapes of rugged coastline, valleys and farmland. It is 250 miles long and should take approximately 3 days to see the main sights, or 5-7 days if you plan to linger in some towns. During this Scotland road trip you must see the distilleries of Speyside, the majestic passes of the Cairngorms National Park, the famous castles of Scotland. And all this - against the backdrop of stunning nature.
As this is also a circular route, you can start from different points. But we suggest starting from the city of Aberdeen. The first stop on the route is Drum Castle, one of the oldest in Scotland, former residence of the Irvine clan. It's worth taking time to explore its grounds, which were developed in the 18th century. Take a stroll through the picturesque Garden of Historic Roses and the ancient oak woodland adjacent to the castle, where you can see oak trees dating back to the 1700s. Another nearby castle, Crates Castle, is just a couple minutes away. It's a 16th century landmark with a maze of towers, painted ceilings and original oak panels. A tour here also includes an ancient garden with yew hedges. You can explore both of these castles or choose one if you don't have enough time.
The next stop on the road trip across Scotland is just around the corner - 10 minutes from Crathes.. Here you will find the wonderful Banchory Museum, where you will get a lot of information about the historical events in this region, its traditions and culture. From the museum, the route goes to the town of Ballater on the River Dee. In the Victorian era, this was a resort frequented by the people of Balmoral, the residence of the British royal family. Visit the local information center to learn more about it, grab a bite to eat at the local cafes, and stroll through the stores. Art aficionados will be interested in visiting the Larks and McEwan Art Galleries. The last major stop on this day is Balmoral Castle. You can also change your schedule and give some places and sights more time and leave a whole day to explore this castle. Balmoral is located at the western end of the Cairngorms National Park. It has been the official residence of the British royal family since 1852. The surrounding area, as well as some of the rooms in the castle, are available for visitors to explore. From Balmoral, head to Bremar for an overnight stay. In this village, you can see the local castle, St. Margaret's Church, and check out the pubs. You can also drive further through Bremar to the center of Glenshee to admire the mountainous landscape of the Cairngorms National Park.
The next day of road travel Scotland will take you through the world-famous Speyside whisky region, where most of the country's whisky distilleries are located. But before that, on the way from Bremar, visit Corgaff Castle. It is a 16th century tower with an interesting architecture: its outer wall is shaped like a star. It was used as a residence for noble families and later as a military base for soldiers of the British army. We advise you to choose one or two distilleries to visit rather than trying to visit them all, otherwise it will take a very long time. For example, it could be Glenlivet, which has been in almost continuous operation since 1824 and produces 6 million bottles of single malt whisky every year. It is one of the most famous brands of this drink in the world. During the tour, you can visit the distillery itself, the showroom, the store and attend a tasting.
From here, take a tour of Ballindalock Manor to see the magnificent castle and the beautifully landscaped gardens around it. Places to visit in Scotland by car in Aberlour include a distillery, the beautiful two-tiered Lynn Falls and a museum in a former railway station dedicated to whisky production and whisky casks.
If you're ready to deviate a little from the standard itinerary, visit the impressive medieval Elgin Cathedral and Elgin's oldest independent museum. Your route will then take you along the Moray Firth coastline with delightful seascapes. At the Bucki&District Heritage Center you can learn about the history of fishing in the area, see different models of boats, before heading to Bow Fiddle Rock near the pretty village of Portnockie. The cliff, in the form of a unique arch, is a great place to end the day with a beautiful sunset. For an overnight stay it is worth stopping in the town of Cullen. There is a beautiful beach and a wonderful viaduct, as well as cozy restaurants where you should try the famous Cullen skink soup.
The next day of the trip will take you along the Moray Firth coast. In the town of Banff, visit the magnificent Georgian manor house Duff House, appreciate its architecture and the collection of paintings and works of art on display here. A little further from Banff is the picturesque village of Gardenstown and the excellent small beach of Callihan. There are also some interesting museums to visit in this stretch, including the Scottish Lighthouse Museum, Fraserburgh Museum and Peterhead Prison Museum. You can finish your trip with a visit to Slanes Castle and a round of golf on one of the local courses.
4. The A82
The A82 is essentially the main Scottish highway from Glaslo to Inverness. It is 182 miles long, but some tourists use only part of it for shorter road travel in Scotland, for example from Glaslo to Oban or Glencoe. But we recommend exploring the full route. It includes visits to famous sights such as Loch Ness and Loch Lomond, Glen Coe Valley and Arkhart Castle. It is popular with tourists due to the spectacular scenery along the way. On the way from Glasgow to Oban, you'll pass through the Trossachs National Park, where you can linger to explore scenic walking trails, see castles and pretty villages. If you're interested in history, head to the ruins of Buchanan Castle. It's near the village of Drymen and dates back to the early 13th century. It is now in a sorry state of disrepair: it is gradually deteriorating more and more and is almost overgrown with ivy. It is deserted and gloomy, and it can be unsafe to get close to the ruins or go inside. Another historic site in a similar position is Kilburn Castle on the shores of Loch Ewe. It was built in the 15th century, but only a small part of the structure has survived to this day. The ruins of this castle can only be visited during the summer months.
Whisky lovers can visit Glengoyne Distillery in Glasgow or book a tour of Oban Distillery. If you're traveling with kids, check out the stunning SEA LIFE Aquarium on the shores of Loch Lomond. With 7 themed areas, including an interactive pool where you can touch starfish and other aquatic life, and a tropical tunnel with sharks and rays, it's great fun for the whole family.
Oban is also worth a visit to the home of the world-famous Clan MacDougall and together the Dunolly Scottish Culture and Heritage Center, which offers a tour of the museum, castle and surrounding grounds. Finish the day by exploring the harbor area and sampling seafood at local cafes. And if you head up to McCaig's Tower at the top of the hill behind Oban's main street, you'll witness a glorious sunset.
From Oban, your Scotland road trip itinerary heads to the town of Glencoe. Along the way you will see the magnificent scenery of the Glencoe valley, which you may have already seen in James Bond or Harry Potter movies (for example, Hagrid's hut was built here for the third part of the franchise). The next point on your map is Fort Williams. From the local tourist center, you can hike to conquer Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis. Alternatively, you can check out Steele Falls and Lower Falls. The area is also worth a whisky tasting at the Ben Nevis distillery, the ruins of the ancient castle of Inverlochy, built in the 13th century, and an engineering landmark - a system of locks on the Caledonian Canal called Neptune's Ladder. It is particularly beautiful in the evening thanks to its illumination. Stay overnight in Fort William and in the morning head along Loch Ness to Arkhart Castle. We've left it in ruins, which isn't surprising considering how many battles it has endured in its history. The castle dates back to the XIII century and is one of the largest in Scotland. But it is not only the history of the castle that attracts a lot of tourists here, but also Loch Ness, on the shores of which it stands. This road trip through Scotland ends in Inverness. Take the time you have to explore Inverness Castle, St. Andrew's Cathedral and the Caledonian Viaduct.
5. Argyle Coastal Route
Although this route starts in Glasgow and ends in Fort William, like part of the previous A82, you're in for a completely different road trip around the Scotland route. This is an example of a classic road trip along the coastline of the west coast and the Scottish Highlands. You will visit several magnificent lochs, explore interesting museums and castles and see Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The route is 208 km long and it is better to allocate 2-3 days for it.
Your trip around Scotland by car starts in the town of Tarbet, just over an hour's drive from Glasgow. Explore the Trossachs National Park and the attractions of Loch Lomond, climb to the An Siann Mawr Lookout for panoramic views of the Arrochar Alps and loch before heading to the village of Inveraray. It is enchanting with its whitewashed houses and fabulous medieval castle. It is superbly preserved, so visitors can appreciate the fine decoration of its rooms, the impressive collection of the armory and the beautiful grounds around it. Another Inverari attraction is the historic prison with an interactive museum. In the next town of Aukindrein, it's worth heading to the local museum dedicated to the last Highland farming town, and the Kilmartin Museum, an ancient stone formation that has been called "Scotland's Stonehenge".
The second day of your Scotland car trip starts with a tour of the 15th century castle ruins of Cranassery, followed by a detour to Easdale Island. This is a great place to visit the local seal colony and whale watching. The next stop is the town of Oban. Here you should visit the McCaig Tower, the Danolli Museum and the Oban Distillery whisky distillery. Oban is known as the seafood capital of Scotland, so check out the local cafes and restaurants.
On the way to the final point of the route - Fort William - you will have a few more stops to make. The first of these is the medieval Stalker Castle, surrounded by water. You'll first be ferried by boat to the castle and then given a tour of its rooms. So expect to spend at least 2-3 hours of time here. Afterwards, check out the magnificent ancient garden of Ardhattan Monastery, which has been around for over 700 years and is listed as one of the country's protected historic sites, and the Scottish Marine Reserve on the shores of Loch Creran. Next you can see the volcanic scenery of the Glen Caw Valley and attempt to conquer Ben Nevis. The climb to Scotland's highest peak (4,413 feet) will take 7-8 hours. You can also go hiking or mountain biking here. At the end of the itinerary, explore places to visit in Scotland road trip in Fort William and visit the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, familiar from the Harry Potter movies.
6. Isle of Skye
This route is called the best Scotland road trip itinerary for photographers and lovers of natural beauty. The Isle of Skye offers the best scenery, as if from another world. It is one of the most visited places in the country, so consider visiting in the off-season after August. The island is connected to the northwest coast by the Skye Bridge, but can also be accessed by ferry from Mallaig. You should allow approximately 3-5 days to explore the 300-mile route around the island.
After passing the bridge, you can visit the majestic Eileen Donan Castle along the way. "Ring" the route around the island starting from the large town of Portree with its beautiful harbor, brightly colored houses and superb views of the surrounding hills. Nearby you can take a walk around the cliffs of Old Man Storr, Loch Milt and to Kilt Rock Falls. From Portree, head to Staffin to the volcanic cliffs of Totternish Loop and Quiraing. Next stop on the route is the Dwirinish Peninsula for a wild walk along the jagged ridges of the Cuillin Hills and one of the excellent local restaurants, or wander the ruins of Duntulm Castle in the north of the peninsula.
Start the second day of your trip with a tour of the castle as well. Dunvenan has long been the home of the MacLeod clan. You can even camp here and pick up some treats from the local bakery before heading further along the route. Nearby is the Skye Museum of Island Life, which transports visitors back in time to the island's past through period cottages and rooms with authentic equipment and old-fashioned décor. Next on the itinerary is the town of Uig with excellent traditional pubs, the beautiful Fairy Valley and the stones of Eire. At Dun Big Broch you'll see the ruins of a tower built around 2,000-2,500 years ago.
The best Scotland road trip routes touch on the history of Scotch whisky. Visit the famous Talisker distillery to get a taste of it, and enjoy the picturesque Talisker Bay. The next part of the trail offers adventure for experienced hikers. There are great hiking trails that will take you to Quillin Falls. There are also easier trails with great viewpoints. The Scotland roadtrips route on the Isle of Skye offers beautiful and memorable towns that are a must-see, but its main appeal lies in its natural beauty. You will be constantly surrounded by high mountain peaks, crystal sea and rocky coastline. There are great places to swim, such as Claigan Coral and Talisker beaches, and opportunities for wild swimming in waterfall pools. In fall and spring, it's also worth taking the ferry to the Small Islands nearby for great bird-watching locations.
7. Historic Frontier Trail
This route takes you through charming villages, famous landmarks, green countryside and heathland from Gretna Green to Edinburgh. This Scotland car road trip starts outside of Scotland near Carlisle. Compared to previous routes, it's a fairly short 88 miles, stopping at Gretna Green, two historic towers and the National Highland Museum before ending at one of the most famous sights, Edinburgh Castle. Set aside 2-3 days to devote enough time to explore its locations.
Since the route starts in Carlisle, you can find interesting places to visit here as well, such as Hadrian's Wall, a defensive fortification built in 122-128 by the Romans. Then head to the first attraction of the road trip scotland route - Gilnockie Tower. It is a 16th century tower house that has undergone a global restoration and now also houses the Armstrong Clan Center. Afterwards, you can head to the town of Hawick to visit Drumlanrig Tower Museum, the dilapidated Hermitage Castle and the pastoral landscapes of Wilton Lodge Park. For an overnight stay, you can stop in the town of Selkirk. If you're ready to spend some of your time shopping, check out the iconic Lochcarron of Scotland textile factory. You can visit the factory on a guided tour and then pop into the store to browse the range of knitwear, kilts and the famous checkered tartan patterns.
From Selkirk, move on to Abbotsford Manor near Melrose, where the writer Walter Scott lived. The mansion epitomizes Scotland's medieval past with stained glass windows depicting Scottish kings, a fountain modeled on the Cross of Edinburgh, and alabaster replicas of the gargoyles of Melrose Abbey. There is a Walter Scott Museum, and after the tours you can grab a bite to eat in a nice inexpensive cafe. There's not much left to Edinburgh, so it's worth a diversion to the neighboring town of Galashiels.
On the onward journey you will have a few more reasons to stop. For example, you can visit the Stewart Brewery. Local tours for tourists allow you to go behind the scenes and learn more about the production of beer, as well as try several varieties of foamy beverage. After the "intoxicating" tour it is worth clearing your head in the fresh air, for which Dalkeith Country Park is perfect. It's a picturesque spot where you can go cycling or horse riding, play a round of golf or have a picnic. Amidst beautiful wilderness scenery with unique plant species and home to a variety of wildlife, you'll have a wonderful break from the hustle and bustle of the city and time spent driving. If you're traveling in winter, make a stop at the Midlothian Winter Sports Center.
The end point of this visit Scotland itinerary is spectacular Edinburgh. Explore the sights of the Old Town, visit Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile's succession of medieval streets, unique museums and souvenir stores.