This is your classic Scottish Highlands road trip which is suitable for people who are familiar with the country or also those who are visiting for the very first time. The 10 day Scottish Highlands Itinerary will take you through all sorts of scenery from lochs to hills to islands and all sorts in between.
This road trip itinerary assumes you have a car for driving around Scotland. While public transport is generally good in the country it would take too long to see all the places here if you didn’t have your own transport.
Car hire is readily available from Edinburgh airport if you’re flying in – check out prices here.
Accommodation is hotels or guest houses along the route. You could do this as a camping trip with a tent or even with a motorhome but for this post we’ll assume it’s going to be hotels.
A rough idea of the route!
Things to know beforehand for your Scotland Highlands Road Trip!
- Hotels should generally be booked in advance, especially if you’re travelling in the summer months.
- There is a ferry involved on this itinerary to the Isle of Skye which again should be booked in advance
- If conditions mean ferries are cancelled, or if you don’t like boats, you could easily drive to Skye as there is a bridge over to it
- Weather in Scotland is unpredictable – take a rain coat always!
- Most of the roads on this itinerary are good, 2 lane roads but the drive can be winding and treacherous if the weather has been unkind. Always take care, take plenty of breaks and take your time.
- This doesn’t include the North Coast 500 road – you might like our NC500 itinerary here if that interests you.
Your 10 day Scottish Highlands Itinerary
Day 0 – Edinburgh
This itinerary doesn’t include any sightseeing days in Edinburgh so I really encourage you to spend a couple of days either before or after your Scottish Highlands road trip. And check out these Edinburgh castle view hotels as well! If you just have a day, or a portion of a day to explore you might like my one day in Edinburgh itinerary.
For some of my other articles on travel in Edinburgh check out:
Day 1 Edinburgh – Ballatar (near Balmoral) via Pitlochry
Our first day sees us drive around 130 miles into the Cairngorm mountain range and to where the Queen spends her summer – Balmoral! It’s around 3 hours of driving this first day with a stop in Pitlochry (2 hours in) so feel free to take some stops where you want on this day and take in this gorgeous area that many people miss out in their rush to reach the far north!
First off we drive up north and across the Queensferry Crossing (the new Forth Road bridge) to Fife (fun fact – this is actually where I grew up!) – there is no toll on the bridge nowadays so it’s free to drive across it and you’ll get a fab view of the Forth rail bridge while you do – an iconic sight!
If you’d like to take some time to view the Forth bridges from the ground then a quick stop in South Queensferry is a good idea and where we normally stop when in the area. There are a couple of shops, cafes and pubs there too and of course great views of the bridge.
While driving through Fife you’ll pass by Loch Leven – one of the many sites used to imprison Mary Queen of Scots – this one is a castle on a lake and she actually escaped from there. It’s a good trip but can take a few hours out of your day due to a boat crossing needed so bear that in mind. You can visit the loch without the castle trip though if you wanted to stop.
Pitlochry is a lovely town and makes a great stop off place on your first day road tripping through Scotland. The town itself is well set up for tourists so you’ll find plenty of shops willing to take your money, cafes and restaurants for your lunch.
You can explore plenty of walks and trails from the town itself if you want to get out into nature or head towards the Pitlochry Dam to see a feat of engineering and the salmon ladder which was built to help the salmon navigate the man made structure.
From Pitlochry it’s around another hour drive to Ballater which is the nearest village to Balmoral and a great place to soak up some royal air, take in some walks and explore the castle if you’ve arrived at the right time of year. Balmoral castle is closed August, September and the very beginning of October as it’s the Queen’s private residence but outside of these times you can get a guided tour and explore the grounds and gardens.
Check out the Balmoral Castle website to see if it will be open when you’re there.
Stay: The Gordon Guest House is in Ballater itself and is a gorgeous old victorian building. A great start to a Scottish trip!
Day 2: Ballater – Speyside via the Cairngorms
You might wish to do some castle exploring this morning if you’re able and if you didn’t have time yesterday. If Balmoral isn’t open then nearby is also Braemar castle or Craigievar castle which should scratch a Scottish castle itch for you.
A good lunchtime stop might be somewhere in the Cairngorm mountain range – either pack a picnic and go for a hike or find a village around the
North of the Cairngorms is the Speyside area which is known for the whisky trail. There are so many to choose from around here – honestly you could spend 2 weeks or more just visiting them all!
We’ve done a couple of distillery tours in the area ourselves – Glenfiddich and also The Glenlivet – both of which were highly recommended and a really good day out. You learn about how whisky is made, the history of the brands and do some tasting too if you like that – all in an amazing location with stunning views all around!
My tip for you is to find a distillery you are interested in and find a hotel or B&B in that town. This means you can do your tour, take in a dram or two and not have to worry about driving afterwards. Taxis are always available though!
Glenfiddich was my favourite tour and it is located in a town called Dufftown which is a really nice place to stay and also has a further distillery called Balvenie for you to take in too!
Stay: In Dufftown you could try the Dunvegan Bed and Breakfast – in the town for Dufftown itself and walking distance to the distilleries.
Day 3: Dufftown – Elgin – Inverness
From the Speyside area it’s just a short half hour drive to Elgin and the site of a pretty impressive old Cathedral. It’s a great place to spend an hour or two and you can climb up and get some pretty awesome views from the top.
An hour from Elgin is the city of Inverness but just before you arrive in the city it’s a good idea to explore the amazing Clava Cairns and Culloden which are just a couple of miles out.
Clava Cairns is the site of some ancient burial cairns which date back to around 2000BC and you can walk around easily. It feels very spiritual there and it’s a nice spot to take a picnic.
Culloden moor is the site of the battle that took place in the time of the Jacobites. There is an excellent visitors centre there with a cafe if you need a bite to eat too. You can wander around the museum and learn about the battle – I spent a long time there as it was a time period I was confused about! An audio tour also helps when you’re walking around the battlefield itself to really get a feel for what happened there.
Inverness is a pretty but small city, easy to get around on foot and explore. You’ll find shops, restaurants and nightlife too should you want it! My recommendation is to find a central hotel with parking like this one which means you can do some exploring easily in the evening and following morning.
Stay: if the above hotel isn’t for you then check out some more in Inverness
Day 4: Inverness – Fort William via Loch Ness
We’re only going to travel just 65 miles or so today but it’s going to take us past some stunning scenery and one of the most famous lochs in Scotland – Loch Ness! Our destination is Fort William where we’ll stay for 2 nights while we explore the area.
First of all we’re going to get to Loch Ness. There are a number of lay-bys on the route which are perfect for spotting Nessie the legendary monster of the lake. Alternatively a boat trip can be taken from a number of places along the road too.
Drumnadrochit is a small village situated about half way along the loch and would make a good lunch time stop off. There are a number of touristy type shops and attractions here where you can learn more about the area, the loch and the monster!
Urquhart castle is just past the village and is a stunning and iconic looking castle which overlooks Loch Ness which is well worth an hour or two exploring.
On the way to Fort William you’ll see a few more lochs and you’ll be tempted to stop so many times for photo opportunities! There are a few places of note on route such as Invergarry Castle, Glengarry Heritage Centre and Fort Augustus where you can view the Caledonian Canal. Take your time around here and explore what takes your fancy!
Fort William is a large town situated at the base of Ben Nevis and is a great place for hiking and even skiing in the right season! There are plenty of walks for all abilities. We’re going to situate ourselves here for two nights to explore!
Stay: The Cruachan Hotel is walking distance to the town but just outside and has gorgeous views too.
Day 5: Glencoe
Glencoe is only about 30 minutes away from Fort William by car and so it makes sense to have two nights in that location – I always appreciate not moving on every night!
The scenery of Glencoe is simply stunning and it even has a slightly claustrophobic feeling with the hills climbing around you and enclosing you.
There are walks, lay-bys to stop and take pictures and plenty of little villages in this area to explore.
If you’re interested in the history of the area then I also encourage you to visit the Glencoe Visitors Centre which has some exhibitions and information about the infamous massacre that happened here. You’ll also learn about the area and the mountain climbing that goes on too.
Stay: same as night before in Fort William – The Cruachan Hotel
Day 6: The road to the Isles – Fort William – Mallaig
We’re leaving Fort William today to travel along the road to the Isles. It’s a really pretty road, not too long driving and some stunning locations and villages en route. You might want to stock up on some picnic supplies in Fort William before travelling today – the villages are small and while there are cafes – I’m going to suggest a picnic on the stunning beach might be worth it!
Alternative: You might want to spend another night in Fort William and take the ‘Hogwarts Express’ train to Mallaig. It’s an iconic railway journey that many recognise from the Harry Potter films as it goes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. You can take a normal train but the steam train runs most days. You get a few hours in Mallaig and then return to Fort William.
Our first stop is Glenfinnan which is not only the site of the famous and picturesque viaduct from the Harry Potter films but also home to a really rather good visitor centre and a monument you can climb too. Well worth a stop and spending some time in the area. This part of Scotland is where Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived to rally his troops before the ill fated Battle of Culloden. You can learn more about him and what happened in the visitors centre and the monument remembers those who died.
Just a little further along the road you might also find the Prince’s Cairn which marks the spot where Prince Charlie came ashore and started the journey. There’s a lay-by you can stop in and walk to the cairn.
Arisaig is a small village that you pass and it’s worth a stop especially if you can get to visit their small museum which is the Arisaig Land, Sea and Island Centre. It tells the history of the area and has a small gift shop too.
You can take the smaller roads that wind around the coastline here if you have time and you’ll see some amazing beaches with the most bright blue sea and white sands. The gorgeous Camusdarach beach is where I propose a nice picnic – it’s a beach that was made famous in an old film called Local Hero. We stayed overnight here at the campsite a couple of times and it’s simply stunning.
The end of the road is Mallaig which is a port and where you can get ferries to the Small Isles (Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna) and also to Skye.
Mallaig is a small town but nice to walk round and some options for eating and staying too. Enjoy the sunset over the dramatic island views and soak it all in!
Stay: The Marine Hotel is a great choice in the town and right in the centre.
Day 7: Over to Skye
The Isle of Skye is just over the water from Mallaig and a ferry runs daily to Armadale which is on the southern end of Skye.
You’ll need to get ferry tickets from here and it’s a good idea to book in advance. Double check if you’re travelling in the shoulder seasons as to whether it’s a summer or winter timetable.
You can drive to Skye if you need to although it’s a bit longer round (you’ll go that way on the way back).
The ferry takes less than an hour – keep a look out for dolphins and porpoises on the journey, there’s often a number of different sea animals and birds to spot. Even if you don’t get lucky the scenery is just fantastic so soak it up, enjoy and be ready to explore the only island on this highland itinerary!
There is the fabulous Armadale Castle as you depart the ferry which is worth a look round – not many tourists come down part of Skye as many arrive over the bridge a bit further up so hopefully it may be quiet and peaceful! While there you can also check out the Museum of the Isles.
On your way up to Portree – which will take an hour if your don’t stop to explore, why not take a quick detour to the Fairy Pools – a wonderful walk, stunning scenery and a chance to do some wild swimming if that takes your fancy!
Stay: In Portree the Rosedale Hotel has stunning views over the harbour and is a great choice (be aware no car parking at this hotel – you’ll need to use the council car parks). To see what other accommodation is in the area check out here.
Day 8: Skye
We’ll stay another night in Skye tonight which means we can spend the day exploring the northern end of the island. There are a lot of pretty places to check out in these areas from the Old Man of Storr to the Neist Point Lighthouse. You’ll really feel in the wilderness up here, if you ignore the other tourists, and the scenery is just stunning. Hope you packed some walking boots!
Stay: Another night in Portree at the Rosedale Hotel so you can soak up all the Isle of Skye has to offer.
Day 9: Skye – Callander
This is a long day so feel free to pick a stop that will be good for you – I’ve chosen Callander as it’s a pretty town with a number of shops, hotels and things to do nearby. It also leaves you with a shorter drive on your last day so you can have a sleep in and have a lazier drive!
We’re now going to wind our way back towards Edinburgh with one stop a little closer to the city. As you’ll know by now the roads are windy and the scenery is spectacular so as this is a big driving day you’ll want to split it up to make sure your day isn’t too long.
From Skye we head over the famous bridge that connects the island to the mainland. Not far from here, and after approximately an hour on the road, is a good place to make a first stop – Eilean Donan. This is one of the most photographed castles in the Highlands of Scotland and you’ll likely recognise it immediately. (It’s the castle in the picture above!)
You can take some walks in the area, visit the castle if you’d like or just explore the visitors centre and cafe.
You’ll then continue south towards some familiar places – Fort William and Glencoe. The drive is spectacular and the hills and scenery seems never ending!
Your final destination for today is Callander which is a town near Stirling but still out in the countryside with amazing views.
Stay – The Dreadnought Hotel is a quirky option and a great place to spend your last night on this Scotland trip.
Day 10: Callander – Edinburgh
Our last day sees up arrive back in the capital city, Edinburgh. Depending on your commitments you might have time to explore a few other places in the area or you could just have a lazy morning and drive back to the city.
Doune castle is a famous castle that most recently has featured in Outlander but you might also recognise it from Monty Python filming of the Holy Grail too!
A little further on and you might like to check out the Wallace Monument which sits in the foothills of the Ochil Hills – the last little bit of rolling hills you’ll see now we’ve left the Highlands. This commemorates William Wallace of the Braveheart tale and looks over where he and the Scots won against the English at the Battle of Stirling.
Stirling itself is worthy of exploring too if you want to see a different city in Scotland – it’s a really pretty, walkable place and of course you have the castle there too to explore.
You could easily spend another few days in this area checking out all the history, the walks and the towns – but perhaps that’s another trip!
Stirling is just another hour from your end destination of Edinburgh so take your time!