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Scotland's Highlands and Islands

Self-drive Scotland tour (11 nights)

Scotland’s famously stunning landscapes are the focal point of this trip around this fascinating country. Start with a couple of nights in the lively capital before heading into gorgeous Deeside, at the base of the Speyside mountains, through the whisky producing region of Speyside and on to the stunning west coast.

Spend time exploring the stunning coast line of the north-west, the unique geology of the isle of Skye and picture perfect Glen Coe before having a relaxing last night on the shores of charming Loch Lomond.

Throughout the trip you will enjoy breath-taking scenery, fantastic historic sights, plenty of chance to sample the best of Scottish produce and, most of all, the famous Scottish hospitality!

If you have more time for your trip, there are many other parts of Scotland to explore, so have a look at the end of the itinerary for suggested extensions and alternatives or get in touch to discuss other options.

Days 1 and 2: Edinburgh

No visit to Scotland is complete without spending a day or two in its fascinating capital. Much of central Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a joy to wander around, from the steep, winding medieval lanes of the Old Town to the open Georgian crescents and gardens of the New Town.

Edinburgh Castle looms over the city from its perch on Castle Rock and a visit is a fascinating education in its history as fortress and royal home.

At the other end of the Old Town, the Palace of Holyrood House has an equally fascinating history: It has been the home of monarchs for many centuries and remains a royal residence today. Whilst there explore lovely Holyrood Park and, if feeling energetic, climb the hill of Arthur’s Seat for fantastic views over the city.

The many restaurants, pubs and bars in Edinburgh make for a lively nightlife and if you visit during August you will find yourself enveloped in the carnival atmosphere of the world famous Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Accommodation: Stay in beautiful Georgian townhouses converted into luxury apartments with loads of space and excellent service in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town or a friendly boutique B&B in a Victorian townhouse with great rooms and a fantastic breakfast.

Days 3 and 4: Royal Deeside and Speyside

Balmoral Castle (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesPick up your hire car in Edinburgh and head north, taking the scenic route through stunning Glen Shee and into ‘Royal Deeside’ to spend two nights in a beautiful setting in the heart of rural Deeside.

This is a fantastic place for enjoying Scotland’s great outdoors. Discover sparkling rivers, highland glens and craggy mountains on anything from a gentle stroll to challenging mountain expeditions.

For a taste of history, there are castles and ruins to explore along the length of Deeside, including famous Balmoral, the Royal family’s summer residence, 16th century Crathes Castle, sitting in a vast estate, and Braemar’s 17th century castle.

To the north, Speyside is the area for whisky lovers. Many distilleries line the valley and offer interesting tours and tastings – explore the ‘malt whisky trail’ and try a few!

Accommodation: Stay in an Edwardian country house on the banks of the river Dee with beautiful views in all directions or a Victorian shooting lodge turned charming B&B set in Scots Pine woodland on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park.

Days 5 and 6: Torridon and the north-west

Torridon (c) Matt Coppin/Great British EscapesEnjoy a wonderfully scenic drive into the northern Highlands – head through the Cairngorms National Park into the famous whisky producing area of Speyside, where you can stop for a tour and tasting at one of the many distilleries if you haven’t yet had chance.

Pass Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’ and consider a detour to famous Loch Ness before crossing some of the wild, open scenery of the Highlands to get to your base on the edge of stunning Loch Torridon and surrounded by the impressive Torridon mountains.

The Torridon area is home to some of Scotland’s most beautiful and peaceful scenery and can be enjoyed on foot, on a sea tour or by braving one of the many activities available including kayaking, mountain biking and climbing. Stunning mountain scenery is all around. When out and about keep your eyes peeled for the wide variety of wildlife that live in this area, including deer, eagles, peregrine falcons, seals and otters.

This area of Scotland has a surprisingly mild climate due to the Gulf Stream, and the effects of this can be witnessed and the unexpectedly tropical gardens of Inverewe, a short and scenic drive to the north on the edge of Loch Ewe.

Accommodation: Stay in the beautiful rooms of a stunning, baronial style country house on the edge of Loch Torridon, set in 58 acres of its own grounds, or in the cosy, modern rooms of the nearby inn, where you will find a warm welcome, hearty food and a great selection of local beers and whiskys!

Days 7 and 8: The Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesBegin your journey south by taking a detour around the gorgeous coastal road of the Applecross Peninsula, with great views across to the Isle of Skye, and up and over the steep and winding Bealach na Ba mountain pass, before crossing the Skye Bridge onto Scotland’s largest island.

Skye’s stunning scenery is its main attraction and makes it a great area for walking – the jagged Cuillin Hills sit alongside shimmering lochs, dramatic sea cliffs and beautiful beaches or head north to the weird and wonderful rock formations of the Trotternish Peninsula.

Boat trips and sea-kayaking are great ways to discover the varied sea-life, while inland Red Deer and Golden Eagles are top of most wildlife spotters lists.

Visit fascinating Dunvegan Castle, seat of the chief of Clan MacLeod, parts of which date back to the 14th century or, to the east, the pretty village of Carbost where you can visit the famous Talisker distillery and sample fresh Skye oysters only moments out of the sea.

Accommodation: Stay in a luxurious but informal former hunting lodge in a fantastic setting on the coast of southern Skye or a Georgian townhouse set on the edge of Skye’s main town, Portree, with views over the town out to sea.

Days 9 and 10: Glen Coe and the Central Highlands

Glen Coe (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapesTake the alternative route back to the mainland – the ferry from Armadale in southern Skye to the busy fishing town of Mallaig on the mainland, then the scenic route through pretty Glenfinnan before arriving at your base for the next two nights in stunning Glen Coe, in Scotland’s central Highlands – considered by many to be Scotland’s most beautiful glen.

From here, you can walk in the stunning surrounding landscape – famous both as the scene of a historic massacre and as the setting for several Hollywood blockbusters – or kayak on beautiful Loch Leven.

Head north to tackle Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis (or take the cable car!), or south to Oban, gateway to the isles of Mull and Iona.

Another option is taking the Jacobite Steam Train through wonderful scenery and across the stunning Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter films.

Accommodation: Stay in a stunning mansion house with huge suites and wonderful views across Loch Linhe and the Glencoe Lochan or in a popular pub with a great hikers bar and cosy lounge – a great place for chatting to the locals after a few hours in the hills!

Day 11: Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond (c) Matt Coppin/Great British EscapesContinue south, across the wild, open expanses of Rannoch Moor and along the ‘bonnie, bonnie banks’ of Loch Lomond, to spend a night by this famous loch.

Visit the pretty villages that sit on the edge of the loch and take a cruise around the loch or hop on a water taxi to visit the far side.

Stop in little Balmaha, on the quieter eastern shore of the loch, where you are situated right on the ‘Highland Boundary Fault’, where the Highlands meet the lowlands. Consider the short but steep walk up Conic Hill, behind the village, for fantastic views over the Loch and to see the mountainous highlands stretching off into the distance.

An interesting visitors’ centre explains the geology of the area. Lovely walks in the surrounding countryside are available all around the loch or, if feeling energetic, head up Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly ‘Munroe’.

If you want to sample a ‘wee dram’, head for the whisky distillery at Glengoyne, which offers a variety of tours and tastings.

Accommodation: Stay in a charming village inn with beautifully renovated rooms and great food, in a popular village on the western shore of the loch, or the cosy rooms of a friendly pub on the quieter eastern shore, both only moments from the loch’s edge.

Day 12: Return home

Make the short journey to Edinburgh airport to drop your hire car before your flight home. If time allows, stop at fascinating Stirling Castle on your way.

Extra time: With a few extra days, consider:

  • Heading further north still to reach the far north coast of Britain, for quiet, scenic driving and pristine beaches;
  • Visiting another of Scotland’s famous islands – pretty Mull and nearby Iona; Islay with its many distilleries producing distinctive, smoky whisky; or the Isle of Arran, known as ‘Scotland in Minature’;
  • Heading south from Edinburgh to the border regions. An area that many overlook, it has a lot to offer and often without crowds. Visit romantic Medieval abbey ruins and imposing castles, and enjoy the excellent walking and cycling country.

If you have been inspired by this example itinerary, why not request your own tailor-made holiday itinerary.

Jump to our example itineraries quick links to read more.

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  • Scotland's Highlands and Islands - what does it cost?

    Classic Accommodation

    from £990 per person

    Luxury Accommodation

    from £1,400 per person

    Based on two adults sharing, including accommodation for 11 nights, car hire for 10 days and an airport transfer to your Edinburgh hotel.

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  • Our schedule was so well planned. There was never a worry about the accommodations and all were so unique. Being our first trip to the UK, we could have not found these great accommodations on our own.