Scotland's natural beauty makes it one of the best road trip destinations around. Add to that crumbling castles, mythical creatures, and a unique cuisine and you’ve got a recipe for an epic trip to Scotland.
Whether you are adding on to a larger trip around the UK, or visiting Scotland on its own, capital Edinburgh has great transport links to the rest of the UK and Europe. It makes the the perfect place to start and end your road trip to Scotland.
Though it may look small on a map, it can take a long time to cover small distances in Scotland due to its long winding roads and offshore islands.
Spending 10 days in Scotland will give you plenty of time to explore the main cities and towns, as well as having a nice amount of time to explore the national parks and more accessible islands.
From the remote and historically important Orkney Islands, to the 'whisky island' of Islay in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast, there are plenty of places to get off the beaten track in Scotland if you have more time. But for some of the best highlights of Scotland, 10 days is enough to cover a little bit of everything.
Start off in Scotland's capital for a wealth of history and cultural gems. From Edinburgh castle, stroll down Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The cobbled street is lined with medieval buildings, free museums, and historical monuments to see like Saint Giles Cathedral, Canongate Kirk, and The Real Mary King’s Close.
Hike up the ancient volcano named Arthur’s Seat to get outstanding views of the city skyline. Visit the restaurants and shops in the lively Grassmarket district and along Candlemaker Row, as well as the famously haunted Greyfriars cemetery.
An absolute must is taking a tour of Edinburgh's legendary Underground City, inside the South Bridge Vaults. More commonly known as Damnation Alley, tales of gruesome history and ghostly goings on will definitely help you to get to know the city's darker side a little better.
Make sure to stop at The Kelpies on the way out of Edinburgh, two giant metal horse head sculptures poke out of the hillside in one of the most striking public artworks in Scotland.
Stay right opposite Waverley station at Motel One Edinburgh-Princes. This sustainable hotel is located in the heart of Edinburgh’s beautiful old town so you can walk to all the main Edinburgh attractions like the Royal Mile, the castle, the National Gallery of Scotland, and the Sir Walter Scott Monument. The rooms are quiet and cosy with traditional furnishings complemented by a modern pop of colour.
About a 2 hour drive from Edinburgh you will find the UK’s biggest National Park. While there are plenty of castles and historical attractions to visit in Cairngorms National Park, the main appeal is the nature and wildlife on offer.
The park is home to around a quarter of the UK’s rare and endangered species as well as five of the UK’s six highest mountains - so it's the ideal place to get outdoors and enjoy some walks and hiking. Visit the royal grounds of Balmoral Estate, take a Land Rover safari, or bag one of the Cairngorms 55 Munros (mountains above 914 metres in height).
Feel like royalty by staying at Dalmunzie Castle Hotel in the south of the Cairngorms National Park. The lavish property dates back to 1510, with four-poster beds, castle turrets, and an elegant library. Rooms boast panoramic garden and mountain views, while the on-site Michelin-guide-listed restaurant also has stately views overlooking the lawn. Pick your evening tipple from the award-winning wine list or from more than 100 malt whiskies.
From the Cairngorms, travel around an hour north to the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands, Inverness. Known for its beautiful old town and attractions like the 19th-century Inverness Cathedral, it’s a great base for exploring this part of Scotland.
Nearby historical treasures include Cawdor Castle and Gardens, the 4000-year-old burial cairns and stone circles at Clava Cairns, and Culloden Battlefield - the site of the bloody last battle of the 1745 Jacobite Rising and an important nesting site for endangered skylarks.
Just a short drive away you will find the second largest loch in the country, Loch Ness. At thirty kilometres in length, the expansive loch is only really known for one thing; the infamous Loch Ness Monster. Visit the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre in Drumnadrochit to learn more about what may be lurking in the murky waters, or take a cruise on the water in the hopes of a sighting.
Here you can also visit the medieval ruins of Urquhart Castle, or rent a canal boat to cross the entire width of Scotland via the Caledonian Canal - a 60 mile (100 kilometre) stretch of naturally forming lakes and man-made canals with 29 locks, four aqueducts and 10 bridges.
If you have more time, you could also opt to take on the North Coast 500 - a 500-mile loop around the northern highlands of Scotland that takes around 3 to 5 days to drive.
Relax in the evening with a Scotch whisky at the Heathmount Hotel, located just a 10 minute walk from Inverness Castle. The immaculately renovated rooms inside the old characterful building will have you wishing you had more time to spend in this surprising Highland city.
Head northwest from here and in just under two hours you will find one of Scotland's best castles to visit. The Eilean Donan Castle is perched on an island at the point where three great sea lochs meet. It makes a beautiful photo stop if you’re short on time, or delve a little deeper by going on a guided tour of the castle and grounds.
Push on to the Isle of Skye via the ferry boat from Mallaig Harbour in good weather, or by car via the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. There are 900 offshore islands in Scotland divided into four main groups: Shetland, Orkney, the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides.
Skye is a popular choice to visit due to its accessibility within the Inner Hebrides as well as its top attractions like Dunvegan Castle, Talisker Distillery and Sligachan Old Bridge.
Drive the Trotternish Loop to discover the best places to see on the Isle of Skye, basing yourself in the main town of Portree. Sights not to miss include the Fairy Pools in the heart of the Cuillin Hills, Bride's Veil Falls and the Old Man of Storr (a 50 metre tall rock located on the Trotternish ridge), and Kilt Rock - a 60-metre tall waterfall that flows straight into the sea.
Set in 15 acres of private grounds, Cuillin Hills Hotel is a 4-star stay located just outside of Portree. Expect sweeping views over Portree Bay and the Cuillin Mountain range, traditional decor and an award-winning restaurant serving local produce and whiskies.
Head back south on the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Fort William on the shores of Loch Linnhe. The western Scottish Highland town is the main gateway to Ben Nevis, the U.K.’s highest peak, but it also offers access to other attractions like the Glen Nevis valley, Steall Falls, and Fingal's Cave near Oban - believed to be the other side of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Though Ben Nevis is the star attraction, there are lots of fantastic hikes in the Glencoe Valley like the Lochan Trails, the Lost Valley Trek, and the 4-hour round trip hike to the Pap of Glencoe - probably one of the best walks in Scotland. There’s also a wealth of adventure activities on offer like white water river kayaking in Glen Etive, cycling on the Caledonia Way, or taking on the Via Ferrata in Kinlochleven.
Another one of the best things to see near Fort William is the Glenfinnan Viaduct; the bridge that’s featured in the film “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”. The steam-powered Jacobite Express crosses the 21-arch viaduct twice a day on its journey from Fort William to Mallaig, so time your visit for 10.30am or 3pm for ‘Hogwarts Express’ photo opportunities.
Upgrade from a traditional Scottish bothy stay by opting to spend a night or two in a camping pod. Westwind Pod offers all of the modern amenities with a compact bedroom with bed linen, bathroom with towels, a fully equipped kitchenette, and even a TV with streaming services. Plus you get to stay in the beautiful outdoors with access to your own terrace and panoramic mountain views.
If you don’t want to ‘rough it’ in the great outdoors, The Whispering Pine Lodge is a tranquil Highland retreat on the shores of Loch Lochy, not far from Fort William. With its own international brasserie, spa and ski-to-door access, it’s the perfect base for exploring the mountains.
Sitting on the fault line where the Highlands meet the Lowlands, Loch Lomond is around two hours south of Fort William, and located just north of Scotland's second-largest city, Glasgow.
Head to the picturesque village of Killin to get an idea of typical Scottish Highland life and to visit the cascading Falls of Dochart. Or make your way to Balmaha to take on the Conic Hill hike - a two and a half hour round trip that takes in some of the best views of the region.
Visit the small village of Tarbet to embark on a boat trip with Cruise Loch Lomond and take in views of Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps, and some of Loch Lomond’s 30 islands. As the largest loch in Scotland, with a surface area of 70 square kilometres, Lomond is a popular spot in the summer months for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, wakeboarding, and water skiing.
In the evening head to nearby Stirling to take in views of the 12th-century castle and to explore the local food scene. Top Stirling restaurant Brea has won many accolades like the 'Restaurant of the Year’ (Food Awards Scotland 2022) and has recently been rated in the 'Top 10% of Restaurants Worldwide' (Tripadvisor 2023). Choose between locally sourced burgers, fresh seafood, and top Scottish spirits, ciders and craft beers - a far cry from the haggis, neeps and tatties of Scottish pub-grub fame.
Stay at the Garrison of Inversnaid Farm, a working farm built in 1719 in the heart of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The property offers two private self-contained studio apartments set within a converted barn, but the real reason to stay is the seasonal farm produce.
Make the most of a traditional home-cooked Scottish breakfast, or try a home-grown organic meat or vegetable stew. You can even meet and pet the Highland cows, sheep, pigs and hens on a small tour of the farm with owners Paul and Kelly.
August is the most popular month to visit Scotland, but prices are high and places can get crowded (especially in Edinburgh during the popular Fringe Festival). Temperatures only reach up to around 20°C in peak summer and the shoulder seasons can be just as warm if you get the timing right.
A good reason to travel to Scotland in the shoulder season months like May or September is to avoid the pesky midges that can plague wetter regions in the warmer months.
Another factor to consider is the amount of daylight hours at the time of year you are visiting, especially if you are planning long drive days or big hikes. Winter days can be short and really restrict visiting hours of attractions and sometimes accessibility due to snowy mountain roads too.
It is possible to explore the main cities of Scotland like Aberdeen, Inverness, and Glasgow by using the ScotRail network and the inter-city Citylink, Megabus and local bus services. You could also do guided day tours to some of the more out-of-the-way attractions.
But for the best use of your time, money, and the least logistics when planning for a trip in the UK, renting a car is definitely the way to go. Hiring a car for a road trip in Scotland gives you a lot more flexibility and the option to stop in places that the public transport network just doesn’t reach.