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Central Scotland and the Highlands in 9 Days

Guest post by skelly

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click each marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

Day 1: St. Andrews

  • Forth Bridges Viewpoint
  • Standing Stones Of Lundin
  • St Andrews Links
  • St Andrews Cathedral
  • The Church of St Mary on the Rocks
  • University of St Andrews

We flew into Edinburgh early in the morning, but left the airport and headed right to St. Andrews, stopping to see a couple things on the way.

We began our trip with the Standing Stones, which were amazing and are the tallest in Scotland. To get to them,  type Lundin Ladies Golf Club into your GPS – you’ll have to park at the end of the street and walk to them, they’re at the 3rd hole of the course. We went on to St. Andrews after that, enjoying lunch at the Links Course Clubhouse. After walking around the town/university and exploring St. Andrews Cathedral and St. Mary on the Rocks, we left St. Andrews and headed to Stirling, taking the A91 West through some really picturesque villages.

Day 2: Stirling

  • National Wallace Monument
  • Old Stirling Bridge
  • Stirling Castle
  • Holy Rude
  • Mar’s Wark
  • King Street

The Wallace Monument is definitely a must-see for anyone interested in history. It contains marble busts of Scotlands heroes and the sword of Robert the Bruce, as well as 3 floors packed with informative exhibits. The shuttle to the top of the hill is free, or you can walk up if you have a lot of time and energy. You do have to purchase tickets to tour the building but even if you don’t opt for that, getting up there and just seeing the outside of it is worth it – on a nice day the view is amazing and you can see for miles.

The Wallace Monument

We also toured Stirling Castle and the cemetery near it and Holy Rude Church (which was closed for us: open April-October). We stopped for a bit near the Stirling Old Bridge which is on the site of the famous battle that William Wallace won. We  had dinner at the Boozy Coo on Kings Street ( You must park a block away and walk there, as that part of the street is pedestrian only.), and afterwards explored the arcade and area around Kings Street, which has plenty of pubs and interesting shops.

Day 3: Pitlochry

  • Cambuskenneth
  • Cairngorms National Park
  • Auld Smiddy Inn
  • Eilean Donan
  • Dunollie Hotel
Cambuskenneth Abbey in Stirling

We started the day in Stirling, visiting the Cambuskenneth Abbey. We then headed north to Pitlochry for the afternoon before heading to the village of Broadford on the Isle of Skye.  We took A9 North/East to the A889 North through Dalwhinnie then the A86 West through Spean Bridge and then North on the A82 to Invergarry before heading west on the A87.  This route sort of cris-crosses the middle of the country, and it was a lot of driving, but it was incredibly scenic and is pretty seamless if you have navigation. We stopped several times to get photos of amazing landscapes, especially around Pitlochry, which sits at the base of the Cairngorms.

We went to the Auld Smiddy Inn for lunch based solely on a recommendation from another route on this site, and it was amazing! Pitlochry is a cool town to wander around and we did for a couple hours before heading on our way to Skye. Just before the Skye Bridge, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, which is iconic and beautiful, even in the rain. After that, we went on to Skye. We were pretty beat from the long drive and spent the night at the Dunollie Hotel in Broadford, which I don’t recommend. Broadford is a little boring, and if you go just a little further, you can stay at Sligachan Hotel instead and be greeted with spectacular views of the Cuillin Mountains when you wake up. I’ll be doing that next time for sure.

Day 4: Isle of Skye

  • Elgol
  • Sligachan Old Bridge
  • Loch Dunvegan
  • Neist Point Lighthouse
  • Portree
Sligachan Bridge with the Black Cuillins in the background

If I had it to do over again, I would skip Elgol entirely. It only ended up being worth the scenic drive, and there is nothing of much interest in Elgol village at all. Dunvegan was also nearly a bust for us as well because although we knew it wasn’t open for tours until April, we thought we could get up close for some photos – you can’t. The grounds are gated and locked during off season and the trees are dense enough that you cant even get a glimpse. Fortunately we caught a faraway view of the back of it from further up the loch.  Loch Dunvegan is stunning and we had a sunny day so we just drove around a little taking in some views and then moved on to Neist Point. This was a long and winding drive that ended in a long and exhausting walk. The parking area is more than a mile from the actual place, and the lighthouse itself isn’t visible from the lot. You have to walk a long steep path and several stairs, but if you do it, you’re in for an unbelievable view. Afterwards, we took the A850 across the island and down to Portree, another stunningly scenic drive.

Day 5: Isle of Skye

  • Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls Viewpoint
  • Staffin Bay
  • Quiraing
  • Trotternish Ridge
  • Old Man of Storr

For our 2 nights in Portree, we stayed at the Royal Hotel which was lovely and had great views to the harbor. We had dinner at the hotel in the The Tianavaig restuarant and  the food was wonderful.

The Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr are things that are probably already on everyone’s list if you’re planning to visit Skye – and they’re spectacular and definitely worth it. Kilt Rock followed by Staffin Bay and the Dinosaur footprints are something I also recommend highly if you have a nice day. Even if you aren’t into dinosaurs, the location – An Corran Beach – is just gorgeous. To find the right spot, follow the A855 North past the Kilt Rock viewpoint. After a while, you’ll see a tiny sign for a ‘Boat Slip’ – that’s where you need to turn right, onto Staffin Road (but the name of the road is not marked well). Keep right and follow the narrow road down to the bay and past it, you’ll go around a tight curve to the right and then a straight stretch of road with a rocky shore and a gravel parking area to the left. That’s the place to stop – you can then walk down to the rocks at low tide and find the footprints. Be careful though – its very slippery.

Day 6: Glencoe Valley

  • Ben Nevis
  • Loch Leven
  • Three Sisters Car Park
  • Bidean Nam Bian

We left Portree in the morning and took the A87 & A82 south to Glencoe, stopping at intervals along the way. We stayed at Strathassynt House B&B which was comfortable and modern and immaculately clean, and the owners were very friendly and welcoming. We went to Glencoe solely to hike and we were grossly unprepared. If you’re hoping to climb/hike here I highly recommend a deep level of research and prep, and taking legit gear: poles, spikes, ropes, etc. We had solid waterproof hiking boots and cold/wet weather gear – and those are absolute musts – but even with those we didn’t make it as far as we hoped to.

Glencoe valley was beautiful and rugged and spectacular beyond my wildest dreams. All the stunning photos I saw online before the trip did nothing to prepare me for the sheer size and wild beauty of the 3 Sisters. I have never hiked anywhere so completely exhilarating, and there are dramatic views around every bend in the path – we kept stopping to take photos every few minutes.

Day 7: Oban

  • Oban Distillery
  • McCaig’s Tower
  • Corran Esplanade
  • Kilmartin Museum
  • Nether Largie Standing Stones
  • Temple Wood Stone Rings

We spent a day and night in Oban and splurged a little – staying at Oban Bay hotel on the Corran Esplanade (a street with shops and restaurants along the bay with gorgeous views.)

We arrived in Oban in the morning and it was too early to check in at our hotel so we went straight to McCaig’s Tower. It’s at the top of the hill overlooking Oban with some great views of the bay and nearby Isle of Mull. We explored the town a little and then headed to Oban Distillery around noon for our tour – I recommend booking this in advance as its cheaper and the spots fill up fast. After the distillery and lunch, we headed south on the A816 to Kilmartin Glen. Kilmartin Glen’s claim to tourism is the thousands of Iron and Bronze age artifacts found in and around there. There are standing stones, carved stone celtic markers, stone circles, and cairns all over the area. After Stopping At Kilmartin Museum, We drove a mile further south to the The Netherlargie Cairn and Stone Circle, which are within walking distance to each other, and you can park nearby in a little lot and walk across a field to access them.

Day 8: Balloch

  • St. Conan’s Kirk
  • Loch Lomond
  • The Conan Doyle

We drove east from Oban on the A85 to Loch Lomond, and came down the west side of the loch to the south point, stopping in Balloch.

On the way from Oban we randomly saw an interesting building and stopped to check it out. This turned out to be St. Conan’s Kirk, a lovely church built in 1881 with a unique blend of architectural styles. There are 2 center beams that were scavenged from wrecks of famous battleships, and a chapel with a relic that is claimed to be a bone fragment from King Robert the Bruce. It was quiet that day and we had the whole place to ourselves to explore. We also had plans to see Finnich Glen this day, but the gully was too dangerous due to high rushing water and icy sleet. We debated doing a boat tour of Loch Lomond instead but the weather was really very nasty so we unfortunately had a bit of a wasted afternoon. We gave up and headed to Edinburgh early and had a lovely dinner at The Conan Doyle near Picardy Place. It’s located close to where Sir Conan Doyle was born and is decorated in Sherlock style with glass pane bookcases full of pipes and magnifying glasses and other oddities – and furnished with large plush chairs near fireplaces. The food was great – but make a reservation if you can, its small and popular.

Day 9: Edinburgh

  • Scott Monument
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • Tartan Weaving Mill and Experience
  • Royal Mile
  • St Giles’ Cathedral
  • Giuliano’s

We opted not to tour the whole castle and just wandered around the outer grounds. We did tour Tartan Weaving Mill, where you can shop for all things Tartan and see real kilts being made. We wandered up and down the Royal Mile going into several shops and some cafes. We considered touring Mary Kings Close but decided against it after learning the details. The tour was 15£ per person and you are not permitted to wander the underground street or look in any of its buildings, you have to stay with the guide. You are also not permitted to take any photos (but you can get your photo taken by your guide and then buy it from the tour company.) We thought this wasn’t worth the time and money, so we moved on. St. Giles is definitely worth a visit, and its free to tour, however there’s a 2£ donation for a photo permit, absolutely worth it. It’s the single most gorgeous church I’ve ever been inside. Every inch of it is carved with remarkable detail, and the stained glass windows are brilliant even on cloudy days. We had dinner at Giuliano’s on Union Place with some friends who live nearby and the food and service were outstanding – It was a perfect ending to a great trip. Flew home the next day.

Traveled in March 2018

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