The Ultimate Guide to a Scotland Road Trip
Historical cities, rugged wilderness, mighty mountains and tranquil lochs, Scotland has some of the most varied and impressive environments in Europe. Forget Route 66 and the Great Ocean Road, jump in the car, pack a tent and embark on the ultimate Scotland road trip for the adventure of a lifetime.
Where else to begin the ultimate Scottish road trip than the capital? Historic Edinburgh is one of the most visited cities in the nation and just by pottering around the centre, it’s easy to see why. It’s probably worth spending at least two days here as there is plenty to see and do.
Take a hike up the looming volcano of Arthur’s Seat, or wander down the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. Harry Potter fans should visit some of the spots that inspired the series, or maybe time your visit and swing by one of the capital’s many festivals?
Aberdeen via St Andrews
Hit the road heading out of Edinburgh, skirting the coast bound for the industrial city of Aberdeen. Along the way, definitely stop off for a photo opportunities at the impressive Kelpies, twin 30m high horse-head sculptures that guard the expansion of the Forth & Clyde Canal. Further up the canal is the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s only rotating boatlift, which lifts vessels up and over the waterway network.
Skirt along the Scottish coastline and stop off at the historic town of St Andrews, the “home of golf”, fabled for its University and rolling golf courses. Fans of the sport might want to stop at the legendary Old Course and chart the history of the sport at the British Golf Museum.
Driving up the east coast of Scotland will soon bring you to the ports of Aberdeen, the Granite City. The hub of the Scottish oil industry, this historic town has plenty of wonderful architecture to admire, including the nearby royal residence of Balmoral Castle. Being a student city, there’s a wide range of bars and coffee shops to while away a day or two in before jumping back on the road for the next leg of the ultimate Scottish road trip.
Aviemore & Cairngorms
Aviemore is the heartland of the Cairngorms National Park, and the drive over from Aberdeen will take you straight through the centre of the titular mountain range. Here you’ll find some of the most stunning scenery in these fair isles. The rugged Highlands make for perfect Instagram fodder and it’s worth donning the walking boots and hitting the trails whilst you’re here.
The home of Nessie and Scotland’s most famous landmark. Loch Ness is the stuff of legend, thanks in part to its mythical resident, the Loch Ness Monster. Though chances of seeing the iconic creature are next to impossible (surprise, it doesn’t exist!), the scenery of the Loch is an impressive spectacle, and one certainly worth parking up for.
Dunnet Head & John O’Groats
Hitting the road again, it’s time to head north up the A9 bound for the top of mainland Britain. Destination: Dunnet Head. The most northerly point on the island. On a clear day, you can see the islands of Stroma, Hoy and Orkney from here. On a not so clear day, you’ll just have plenty of squawking seabirds to keep you company.
From there, whip on over to John O’Groats. Often mistaken for the most northerly point, the village is actually the start/end point of the longest distance between two inhabited points on the British mainland. It is 876 miles from here to Land’s End in Cornwall.
Even with only 1500 residents, the little fishing town of Ullapool on Scotland’s west coast is the most densely populated place in the area. This charming seaside spot is the gateway to the Northern Hebrides and the scenery is definitely something to gawp at. The mountains of Bheinn Ghobblach, An Teallach and Beinn Dearg surround this coastal town.
Isle of Skye
Connected to Scotland’s northwest coast by a bridge, the Isle of Skye is of the UK’s last great wildernesses. Rugged landscapes have lent themselves to many a film set. The island’s dramatic mountains, lonely fishing villages and rolling heather moors leave a lasting impression on this wonder’s many visitors. You’ll pass Eilean Donan Castle before you head out across the pass to the Isle and this Loch-side fortress is worth parking up at.
Once on Skye, you’ll be wanting to leap on the Storr Walk up to the Old Man of Storr, with some of the best views of the island around. Get your history fix at one of the island’s many ruined castles and age-old fortresses, and explore the history of whisky production at the island’s distillery.
Glenfinnan, Fort William, Ben Nevis & Glencoe Highlands
Jump on the A830 towards Fort William for one of the best drives in the UK. This route will take you back into the Scottish Highlands, with jaw-dropping vistas surrounding you as you bomb down the highway (speed limit, folks).
You’ll pass by the Glenfinnan Viaduct (another Harry Potter site, they love it up these parts) and skirt the edge of Loch Linnhe before arriving at Fort William. The town is situated at the foot of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, 1345m above sea level.
Next up it’s on to Glencoe Valley. The steep sides of this heathland valley are a great place to set up camp for a day and just enjoy the ambience of the wilderness.
Oban & Isle of Mull
Back on the road and it’s following the banks of Loch Linnhe to Oban, Scotland’s very own resort town. This portside spot is the gateway to the Isle of Mull, but has plenty to keep you here for a day or two on its own. The dramatic coastline here is amongst Scotland’s best, the beaches here acting as the “Gateway to the Isles”. Oban is the seafood capital of the UK and almost everything is as fresh as the day’s catch so be sure to pop into one of the many fantastic restaurants here.
Jump on a ferry and head to Mull to continue the coastal theme and explore the island’s wealth of ancient castles and architecture.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Back on the mainland and you’ll be wanting to take the road into The Trossachs National Park, home of Loch Lomond and Scotland’s first national park. Att 22.6 miles long, the Loch was voted Britain’s Sixth Natural Wonder by Radio Times.
The great Scottish road trip finishes in Scotland’s largest city.
The famously friendly city of Glasgow is steeped in history as one of the great Victorian centres of trade and manufacturing. Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow is a super-stylish mishmash of old and new. There’s plenty to see and do here, with a wealth of museums and art galleries to while away a day or two.