I’ve dreamed of Scotland’s beauty for a while, and decided to finally go visit during autumn times with 2 friends of mine. We only had a short week, so we wanted to see the Isle of Skye and return. This Scottish Highlands road trip turned out to be more beautiful than I imagined.
Read below the route I suggest you to take and the attractions you can see along the way.
Starting off in Edinburgh
We started our road trip in the capital Edinburgh with one full day to explore the city. If you have more time to spare, I highly suggest to stay one day longer!
What to see
From many parts of the city you will have a view on Edinburgh’s trade mark: its castle.
We stayed in a cool hostel, Kickass Hostel, just behind the castle. We could see it from our room, which was cool. Next to the hostel we found this small road up the stairs, called “Vennel”, which had a very nice view of the castle too.
As we didn’t have time to actually visit the castle, we decided to skip the entrance. If you do have some more time, visit the royal palace to see the Scottish crown jewels.
What I loved about Edinburgh is its architecture and style.
Near the Grassmarket (where you find nice pubs and places to eat), you have Victoria Street. This curved street with colourful shop fronts is one of the most photographed places in the city. Harry Potter fans… this street is the inspiration for Diagon Alley. Can you see the resemblance?
Edinburgh has its famous “Royal Mile”. This succession of streets, that goes from the Edinburgh Castle gates to the Holyrood Palace gates, is almost exactly one mile. It is also the busiest tourist street of the Old Town. Around this area you will find many shops and nice places to have a bite to eat. So plan a bit of time here to stroll around, shop and eat some.
The reason why we skipped some attractions in the city is because we hiked Arthur’s Seat. You will find this hill peak in Holyrood park and you can choose several routes to the top, with the shortest being around one hour.
Let me tell you, the views with the city in the background were amazing! So it was worth hiking or hill walking all the way up.
But if you decide you want to hike there, prepare yourself for heavy and colder winds at the top. Another thing to keep in mind is that the actual top (which is the seat) is a rocky way up, so be extra careful not to fall down (and break anything, such as your photography gear).
What to do
Edinburgh is such a nice city to walk in, no wonder they have many walking tours to offer for its visitors. You have regular city tours, but also special themes such as Harry Potter tours, or spooky Ghost tours at evening time.
On this site you can find several free tours you can join. Of course you can always arrange a private tour.
Another type of “tour” you can do in the evening time after all your visits is a good traditional pub crawl. If you have nothing planned at night you could join in the fun. Try out some local pubs with their beers or ciders!
You can book a free one on the site I gave of the walking tours or ask at your hostel if they have one. The drinks aren’t very expensive and you get nice discounts too when you do a pub crawl.
Just be careful or you really will be crawling back to your place afterwards.
The Roadtrip begins: to Glenn Coe
So after 1 or 2 full days in Edinburgh, it is time to set off into the Highlands.
The road towards Glenn Coe will be around 3 hours and 30 minutes through the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park without the stops! Here above you see a fast road map from the points during the road trip. The miles are to give you an idea of how long it is.
Stops on the way
Of course you will want to have some stops. Driving through this gorgeous landscape will kinda force you to!
Finnich Glen & Devil’s Pulpit
The first stop we make is at Finnich Glen. You can look this place up on google maps, and that is the spot you can park your car. After getting out, you need to walk down the road ahead, over the bridge until the entrance on the side. Follow the markers.
You have to walk a good 500 meters along side the gorge until you will see a staircase of some sort that leads you down the gorge. This is very slippery and quite a tricky climb, so be careful and hold on the sides.
When you get down you will see a stream of copper-coloured water (depending on the season, we went during Autumn). When the water is low you can walk all the way up to de Devil’s Pulpit. It is a big stone that looks like a church pulpit or altar. Unfortunately for us, the water was too high and we couldn’t reach it.
It has been said that the Devil would appear in this place and that druids used it for rituals and gatherings. If you watch Outlander, this place is also known as “the Liar’s Spring”, the water of truth.
Either way if you believe the myths or not, it is such a remarkable place that I really liked visiting.
The road to Glen Coe
After Finnich Glen, you will drive through the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park . And if you are lucky to see them, you will encounter your first Highland cow, or as they are called in Scotland ‘Coo’.
When you leave the park you will get into the real highlands with major hills and mountains all around to amaze you. You will pass by so many places you have to stop for a shot. Lucky there are many quick stop parking alongside the road so you can take your shots and move on.
I can easily say that this region was one of my favourites I’ve sever seen.
psssst… An other place in Europe that stole my heart with gorgeous mountains was Switzerland. Read here my post about the Oeschinensee region and see it for yourself!
Stay the night in Fort William
We decided to stay in Fort William, which for us was a good place to proceed our road trip the next day. Also, we read that the Jabobite could be staying in Fort William station for the winter.
We stayed in a real cool Air BnB, the Oaks studio pod. I would recommend it, the pod has everything you need, from wi-fi & Netflix, heaters, an own mini kitchen, a good shower, etc… We stopped at a supermarket in Fort William and cooked ourselves a nice meal that night.
So… some of you must be wondering ” What is a Jacobite?” Well, let me explain.
If you watched Harry Potter, you know that the children go to Hogwarts in a very old steam train, right? This train is real and its name is The Jacobite! Better yet, you can ride in it as it is still running! It is a trip from Fort William to Mallaig and it runs roughly from May to September.
As we went in November, we could not board on The Jacobite, so sad. However we could still go see the famous Harry Potter bridge where it rides, The Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is a real touristic point.
Did we see the Jacobite…?
No, we did not. We were SO bummed. We checked in Fort William station, but it was in England for maintenance! I guess we will have to return in the summer time for a ride!
Views on the way
After pretending to have a wizard battle at the bridge, it was time to move along. From Glenfinnan to Isle of Skye you have more gorgeous scenery and stops for pictures.
A few miles before the Skye Bridge, you will pass by the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle. If you want you can visit it, or on your way back from Isle of Skye.
Crossing the Skye Bridge
So when you arrive in Isle of Skye after leaving Fort William, you can still go see Sligachan and the Fairy Pools before settling in Portree for the coming two nights.
We decided to pick, the capital of Isle of Skye, Portree as our place to stay overnight as it seemed to be the most lively place on the island. We also stayed in an Air BnB, which was a lovely guesthouse with complimentary whisky (duh!) and great breakfast.
The city centre is small but cozy. The view on the little harbour is so lovely with the coloured houses!
On our first night out, we wanted to eat in a local place and found “The Isles Inn”. We had such a nice dinner there that we went back the second evening too. They have Fish & Chips , Haggis, burgers, steak, some pastas, and other dishes… including veggie Haggis and veggie Fish & Chips! Which was great as my other 2 friends are vegetarian/vegan.
Sligachan is a small settlement on the island, famous for its bridge and for being a good viewpoint to the Black Cullins mountains.
Coming from an old mythical story about a warrior woman, the waters under Sligachan is said to give you Eternal Beauty. But you have to do so by putting your face into the waters, without bringing it to your face with your hands… It was freezing and getting dark, so I had to pass on my chance for eternal beauty.
This was something I was quite excited about, but the weather kinda ruined it for us. To get to the Fairy Pools you have to drive about 20 minutes from Sligachan, with one part in a one way street. This can be quite dangerous, so drive careful, specially when it’s raining and dark. After you park your car in the Fairy Pools car park (which is 5 pounds to park there), you have to hike over 30 minutes to get to the actual pools.
When you google Fairy Pools you can see how gorgeous it CAN look. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see this sight, as it was so cold and wet, slippery and we just couldn’t make the time to find the right waterfalls or take photos of it. Either way it was still quite busy with other tourists, so you see how popular it is.
Old man of Storr
On the second day, you have a full day, and you can drive the north of the island in a circle. Starting with the old man of Storr.
This is properly the most famous walk on the Island and definitely the busiest. The ‘Old Man’ is a large pinnacle of rock that stands high and can be seen for miles around. As part of the Trotternish ridge the Storr was created by a massive ancient landslide, leaving one of the most photographed landscapes in the world.
The hike is about 1 hour 30 minutes or 3.8 km. As you read before, we had such shitty weather at times, that we decided not to do it.
Cliffs & Waterfalls
When you drive north from Portree, you pass by the Old man of Storr and next some incredible waterfalls such as the Lealt Falls, Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock.
As usually, you have stopping points so you can walk up to the cliffs and take your shots. Again…be careful here, as it can get windy! The photo with my legs out is less dangerous as it seems, as I put them through the fence.
Isle of Skye is crazy about magical and mythical creatures/stories. With many places referring to such, even if there are no real legends or stories involving fairies that can be traced. The simple fact that the location is unusual so it has been given the nickname Fairy Glen.
Fairy Glenn was one of my favourite places on the island. The landscape is so unique, I never saw something like that. The road you drive through winds around small round-topped grassy hills with ponds in between which gives the glen an otherworldly feel.
One hill still has its basalt top uncovered, which from a far makes you think of a ruin. Therefore this hill is unofficially called Castle Ewan. Behind the ‘castle’, visitors and tourists started stacking rocks to create spirals on the floor. This is actually not something the locals like, as they remove them to keep the Glen in its natural state (and so grazing animals won’t hurt themselves).
Telephone booths & mail boxes
Everywhere around the island you will find these cute old skool red mail boxes and phone boots. Even in the ‘middle of nowhere’ which gave some nice views and funny moments. You can make phone calls of course, and if you do not have money/coins… you can use a credit card!
Mooooooo.. if you read any of my other itineraries, you know that I love animals. My two friends, being vegans, of course do too. So when we planned to go to the Highlands, we were SO SO excited to see the long haired cows!!
We saw some, but not nearly as much as we would like. On that windy, cold day we spotted some along our road, brown and black ones. HOW ADORABLE ARE THEY?.. I fell in love.
Returning to Edinburgh
On our departure date, with our flight leaving around 7pm, we decided to go back to the airport in one stretch of over 6 hours.
Stop at Loch Ness
BUT, you can’t leave Scotland with at least seeing the famous house of Nessie, being the Loch Ness.
As Fort Augustus was on our way back, we made one quick stop there for some photos (without spotting Nessie on them, so sad).
Renting a car for the trip
What is a road trip without a car? No fun, that is what it is. Having a car is perfect to explore this gorgeous place as it gives you total freedom!
We rented a car from Alamo, full coverage of course, with pick up in Edinburgh centre and drop off at the Airport.
Our car was a Vauxhall Mokka, with automatic gear. Which I figured it would be easier for longer drives and for me, not being used driving on the left side. Like that I didn’t have to think about switching manually.
Lucky for us, this baby had all we needed, seating and steering wheel heating including! Which was very nice on the colder days! It was really easy to drive in this car.
A thing to be careful for (especially when you are not used of driving in the UK):
The miles / km gets you confused, and sometimes it is hard to know the speeding limit at some places! This is how I got a fine.. yep… I drove 40 miles where you could only drive 30.
Pin it for later!
So there you go! With this little itinerary and tips I hope you can enjoy a future road trip in the Highlands! All you need now is a damn good playlist that you can sing along with!