I loved Scotland. I actually felt ashamed that I had not explored this country before, having lived in England for 30 years I’d only made a couple of short weekend trips before embarking on a Highland Fling tour with Haggis Adventures. I spent 7 days in Scotland altogether; 2 days in Edinburgh and 5 days in the rest of Scotland exploring beautiful scenery, delicious food and enjoying true Scottish hospitality. I’ll share the 7 day Scotland itinerary I followed, which you can adapt to suit your needs – or take the easy option and sign up for a tour like I did!
I received a complimentary tour from Haggis Adventures, but as usual, all opinions are my own.
When is the Best Time to Visit Scotland?
Although you can visit Scotland at any time the year, I’d say that spring and autumn are the best times to travel around Scotland. The weather in winter can be very cold and wet, and although that could still happen throughout the year, Spring and Autumn have a mixture of sun and rain, without the crowds that flock here over the summer.
If you choose to take a Haggis Adventures tour, there are some parts of the Highland Fling itinerary which are only included from late May to Autumn, for example, the Harry Potter Jacobite steam train, so check the dates for that if you want to include that option. Other things to consider are special events, like Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve), which is a huge celebration in Edinburgh, but the weather is likely to be extremely cold, with rain or snow on the Highlands.
Should You Take a Scotland Tour or Visit Independently?
This really depends on how you like to travel, how long you have, and if you are a confident driver. As a solo traveller, joining a group tour with Haggis Adventures was easily the best option for me, as I met some lovely people to travel with and didn’t have to stress about driving everywhere myself. If you choose to travel independently, you have more freedom about where and when to stop, but arranging car hire, accommodation and planning the route is a lot more work.
Another advantage of going with a guided tour was visiting places I really wouldn’t have considered including on my own Scotland itinerary, but which I am very glad we visited – Culloden Battlefield for example – so I learned a lot more about Scotland and Scottish history thanks to our guide. I wrote an article about my experience with Haggis Adventures which you can read to help you decide which option to take.
7 Day Scotland Itinerary Day 1: Edinburgh to Oban/Fort William
All of the Haggis Adventures tours start from Edinburgh, which is the most practical place to start any Scotland itinerary if you are arriving from abroad. Edinburgh is well connected by air and train links, so starting and/or ending your Scotland trip in Edinburgh works well. I arrived in Edinburgh the night before our Haggis Adventures tour started and spent 2 days in Edinburgh at the end of the tour, so I will cover Edinburgh last. Of course, if you arrive in Edinburgh first, you may want to spend some time here before you set off exploring Scotland.
We all met at the Haggis Adventures office in the centre of Edinburgh at 8.15am and were soon setting off. Our first stop was the Kelpies, a huge piece of motorway art of two silver coloured horses’ heads. There is free parking a few minutes’ walk away from the sculptures, and you can walk around the outside to see them for free or take a 30-minute guided tour from the visitor centre for £7.50 which includes a look inside one of the Kelpie sculptures.
Deanston Distillery Tour and Whisky Tasting.
Even if you’re not a fan of whisky, a visit to a whisky distillery is an essential Scottish experience. Deanston offers hourly tours every day from 10am to 4pm, where you can learn more about the whisky making process and sample some of their whisky. Standard tours cost £9 per person, or they have a variety of different tours and tasting options including a whisky and chocolate tasting which sounded fab. If you want a different tour it’s advised to book ahead, but for the standard tour, you should be fine to just turn up. Check their website for details here.
Callandar is a cute little town with plenty of cafes where you could stop for lunch. I had a pie in a café called Campbell’s Taste of the Trossachs which was cheap and tasty, or there are plenty of other places to choose from. A little further down the road, we took a special stop at Trossachs Woollen Mill to visit some Highland Cows, some of the cutest cows I have ever seen. Hamish, Hazel and Honey are a handsome hairy family, and you could buy some vegetables to feed them. We continued driving through spectacular scenery through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park where you should stop off if you have time, or carry on to Glencoe as we did.
Glencoe was absolutely stunning. There are a few parking places on the roadside where you can stop and take a walk or some photos. James Bond fans might want to take a detour off the main road to try and find the spot where James Bond parks his Aston Martin while he and M enjoy the view. We didn’t do that though, but found a beautiful place to stop, before taking a short break at the Glencoe Visitor centre to use the toilets.
We spent the night at Oban, at the Backpackers Plus Hostel. Oban is a nice little coastal town, I had fish and chips for tea and walked up to McCaig’s Tower for nice views of the bay. However, the real highlight of Oban was a Ceilidh Dance. The View in Oban hosts traditional Ceilidh nights several nights a week (currently on Mondays, Thursdays and some Saturdays over the summer). For £9 per person, you can join in for one of the most fun and entertaining nights you’ll have in Scotland! Check their website for dates & availability. However, if you’re visiting on a day without a ceilidh, I’d be tempted to spend the night in Fort William instead. Keen hikers will probably want to at least see Ben Nevis, about 6 miles away from Fort William.
7 Day Scotland Itinerary: Day 2 Oban to Skye
The Jacobite Steam Train
We set off in the morning to the station at Fort William where we would take the Jacobite Steam Train across the Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig. The train journey is only included in the itinerary at certain times of the year as they run from May to October, and often sells out so book as far in advance as you can. If the train isn’t running when you visit Scotland, you can still drive to Mallaig by car. The Jacobite Steam train is most famous for being featured in the Harry Potter films as part of the journey of the Hogwarts Express and the journey is quite spectacular, especially across the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
We took the 10.15am train from Fort William and arrived in Mallaig in time for lunch (try the Mission Café opposite the train station). From Mallaig, there are ferries to the Armadale on the Isle of Skye which run regularly (some timetables may change due to low tides). The ferries also take cars, bikes and motorbikes check availability here.
Armadale & Kyleakin
Once we were on Skye, we called at the castle ruin of Armadale on our way to Kyleakin, a pretty little village on Skye Coast. We spent the night here and had time to explore the town and the beautiful bay. I highly recommend walking up to the ruins of Caisteal Maol for some lovely views. We stayed at Saucy Mary’s, which also has a restaurant and bar serving up tasty meals.
7 Day Scotland Itinerary: Day 3 – Skye to Loch Ness
We spent almost the whole day on the Ise of Skye, which is a lovely place. If you have more time to spend here I could easily spend several days on Skye! We left Kyleakin to head to Portree, calling at Sligachan on the way to hear tales of Scottish Highland romance, revenge and redemption. Apparently, putting your face in the waters of Sligachan River will grant you eternal beauty – I didn’t try it myself so I’m sure you’ll be able to tell in a few years!
We continued to Portree, another lovely coastal town. We bought a picnic lunch here from MacKenzie’s Bakery, had a stroll around the town and took some photographs of the colourful port. While the weather was still good, we carried on to Storr.
Hiking to the Old Man of Storr was probably my favourite activity on the whole trip. We were very lucky with the weather on Skye and had glorious sunshine to hike to the top of this incredible viewpoint. If you are a fast hiker, apparently you can get to the top in less than an hour, but I needed an hour and a half, including stops for rests and photos. The hike was quite steep but definitely worth the effort! If the weather is good, sit up here and enjoy your picnic lunch! The views are unreal. Unfortunately, parking is limited, and you’ll probably have to park along the roadside, so find a spot as close as you can to the footpath entrance.
Lealt Falls & Kilt Rock
These two sets of waterfalls are worth a stop off to see, and especially after heavy rain Kilt Rock waterfall shoots off the top of a cliff and tumbles into the sea below. An alternative could be to go to the Fairy Pools, although they are about a 2.5km walk from the car park, so it depends how tired you are after Storr!
We also called off at the Isle of Skye Brewing Company for a toilet stop and to stock up on beer and cider for the bus, it was lovely to have a cold refreshing cider after a lovely hike!
Eilean Donan Castle
From Skye, we drove across the bridge to the mainland and across towards Loch Ness. We passed Elean Donan Castle, which is apparently the most photographed castle in Scotland and has been featured in various films. You can stop across the bay for views of the castle without paying, but to see it up close there is a fee for parking.
7 Day Scotland Itinerary: Day 4 – Loch Ness & Inverness
We spent two nights at Morag’s Lodge in Fort Augustus on the shores of Loch Ness.
Trees for Life at Dundreggan
Haggis Adventures partner with Trees for Life UK to help repopulate an area now known as Haggis Wood. We planted two trees among the others that previous Haggis tour groups planted, doing a small bit for the environment. Trees for Life is a wonderful project, and you can volunteer there to plant trees for a week yourself.
It was raining when we stopped off in Inverness, which may have contributed to my lack of enthusiasm about the city. There were plenty of shops and restaurants here, as well as a Victorian shopping arcade, but if you don’t fancy stopping off here you could head to the Cairngorms National Park for the day. I would still recommend visiting Culodden on the way there.
Culloden probably isn’t somewhere I would have visited by myself but learning about a period in Scottish history I knew nothing about was actually very interesting. It was sobering to visit the battlefield, which is essentially a mass grave, where thousands of Highlanders were killed in a brutal battle which ended the Jacobite uprising and destroyed the Highland Clan way of life. The weather was fitting for the sombre day, grey clouds hung low in the sky and the drizzle fell as we walked around the field. Our guide Michael explained the circumstances around the battle, and how Bonny Prince Charlie failed the Highlanders.
Close to Culodden, these 4000-year-old burial cairns give a fascinating glimpse into Neolithic Scotland. The stones were carefully placed to allow the sun to shine in specific places on the solstice, and the sight reminded me of the Megaliths in Evora, where the people used their stone creations as a kind of calendar to mark when to sow and reap their crops.
Loch Ness Cruise
Cruise Loch Ness run boat tours from Fort Augustus around the Loch, and the guide Shaun pointed out interesting things around the Loch, including a patch of bare rocks where legend has it Nessie tried to escape the Loch, or tried to catch some goats for her dinner. We also spotted a couple of deer on the bank. The most interesting (and entertaining) part of the tour was the talk given by Shaun about Nessie and the various attempts to find the Loch Ness Monster. If I wasn’t a believer before, I am now!
7 Day Scotland Itinerary: Day 5 – Loch Ness to Edinburgh
Day 5 is a heavy driving day, with a few stops along the way. You could spend more time in the Cairngorms National Park if you prefer, but it’s about 4-5 hours drive back to the centre of Edinburgh from Loch Ness so plan your time carefully.
It was a gloomy morning when we left Loch Ness to return to Edinburgh. Along the way, we stopped at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge to pay our respects. Unfortunately, the beautiful views of surrounding mountains and Ben Nevis were shrouded in cloud.
This pleasant town is a good stop off point for lunch (and ice-cream!), and you can also visit the Pitlochry Damn with its innovative salmon ladder which allows the fish to pass upstream while the damn can still hydroelectricity.
Dunkeld & The Hermitage
Another pleasant spot to get some food or a café and pay a visit to the Cathedral along the banks of the Tay river. Nearby, the Hermitage Waterfall and nature walk through the forest was a lovely place to stretch our legs and get some fresh air.
You can also stop off at the Forth Bridge on your way back into Edinburgh, to see this special 1.5-mile-long suspension bridge up close.
7 Day Scotland Itinerary: Day 6 & 7 – Edinburgh
I’ll cover the best things to do in Edinburgh in a separate post, but two days in Edinburgh is a reasonable amount of time to see the highlights of this fabulous city. Harry Potter fans should definitely take a Harry Potter walking tour and don’t miss walking up to Calton Hill for some of the best views of the City. I also took a food tour and visited a gin distillery which was fab. Keep an eye out for my upcoming post all about Edinburgh!
Have you been to Scotland? Have I missed anything on this 7 Day Scotland itinerary? I’d love to hear what you think, please leave your comments below.
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