Scotland is the perfect country to road trip. Here’s my recommendation for a short Scottish road trip if you don’t have much time. Scotland is a small country with many places to stop and explore and stunning vistas over lochs and mountains. Below are some recommended stops for your quick road trip in Scotland.
Start your short Scottish road trip in the capital, Edinburgh. You can check out my detailed guide on what to do in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a bustling multicultural city full to the brim of history, pretty buildings, good food and Harry Potter. It’s a very walkable city, so leave the car and take the time to wander. You’ll want to stop at the Whiski Rooms and have some Haggis Spring Rolls or pop into the Elephant House for some Scottish Tea and Harry Potter nostalgia.
Start at the Edinburgh Castle and film the one o’clock gun, for some hilarious memorabilia. No matter how prepared you are, that cannon blast will catch you by surprise.
Wander down the Royal Mile, stopping into the multiple tartan shops for some Scottish scarfs, or visiting a pub for a sneaky pint.
Take a right-hand turn, and make your way downstairs, past the cello player serenading you with Harry Potter or Outlander theme songs, to the picturesque Victoria Street. The rumoured inspiration for Diagon Alley, it’s a postcard of colourful buildings curving beneath the history of the Royal Mile above. Around the corner is also the Elephant House, one of the cafes that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter in.
From there you can wander down to Holyrood House, where the Queen stays in Edinburgh, and see the history in the opulently appointed rooms.
Next stop should be down to Carlton Hill where you can rendezvous with a small picnic and drinks and on a good day watch the sunset over Edinburgh. There are strange pantheon style buildings to check out and The Look Out by Gardeners Cottage if you don’t want to bring your food.
If you’ve got time, squeeze in the idyllic Dean Village for a break from the hustle and bustle of the capital city of Scotland. It’s a twenty-minute walk from the centre of Edinburgh, but you feel a world away from the bright city lights.
Where We Stayed: Castle Rock Hostel
It’s Adults only and is one of the best hostels in Edinburgh. It’s a hostel, but it’s friendly, our room was super clean, and they’ve got lots of activities to keep you occupied and make friends.
Where We Ate: Whiski Rooms
This place looks great, the food is tasty and inventively Scottish, and you can get whisky flights. Try the Haggis Spring Rolls for something fun.
Where We Ate: Vesta
This restaurant was like something out of Melbourne. Effortlessly cool, a bit hipster, and with an experimental menu with a heavy focus on vegan and vegetarian food.
Where We Ate: Brunch and Supper
I loved the chai latte here! Also, the Big Vegetarian Breakfast with vegetarian haggis is delicious. Definitely good for brunch and being able to stare at the Harry Potter cafe while not dealing with the tourists.
Stone Circles - Croft Moraig
A stop that needs to be added to any short Scottish road trip is a stone circle. There are a number of stone circles in Scotland, so if you’re into history or an Outlander fan you should definitely check them out. Croft Moraig is a stone circle in Scotland. The stone circle is on the side of a small country road, in a farmers field. There is absolutely no one around, so we had the entire place to ourselves. We were able to walk among the stones and gently touch their pitted surfaces. Stone Circles are eerie places, they make you wonder why they are there, and what they were used for.
Eilean Donan was my greatest regret from the last time I visited Scotland. Eleven years ago I spent a month driving around Scotland with my twin sister. We saw many castles, and by the time we drove past Eilean Donan we decided we didn’t need to stop on our way to Skye. We were then told that it’s one of the best castles to see inside, and one of the most photogenic, so I knew I would have to come back.
Fast forward to 2019 it was on top of my list of places to visit on our short Scottish road trip. It’s ten pounds to enter and you can get an audio guide or just speak to the lovely people who work in the castle. It’s still lived in by the clan, but the parts you can see are super interesting. You can even see where a secret passageway was built into the wall so people could spy on conversations in the great hall. It is a no drone zone from 9 am – 6 pm, but after these times you can definitely use a drone. Just remember that people do actually live in the castle, so don’t be an invasive drone douchebag.
This trip was a bit of a Harry Potter pilgrimage for me, so I knew I had to go to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. It’s a must on any Scottish road trip. It features in the Harry Potter movies as the bridge that the Hogwarts Express crosses on its way to Hogwarts. When you see it for the first time you can understand why the location scouts chose it as a shooting location. It’s huge, and the multiple arches march across the valley.
There are two places to view the Viaduct from. You can park in the Glenfinnan Visitors Centre and then follow the path behind it up to the Viaduct Viewpoint. The other option is more of a hike. You drive past the Glenfinnan Visitors Centre and 50 metres past it is another parking point and a road. The GPS will tell you that you can drive down here, but it’s private property with a gate, so you can’t. Leave the car here and walk for about 10 – 15 minutes. Most of it is on a road, but once you reach the viaduct you turn left up a dirt track that passes beneath it. From there you just hike upwards until you decide that you have the best view and stop.
We came back and did star photography at midnight, as we had unbelievable weather. There’s almost no light around, so it’s perfect for long exposures.
An important tip is that the Jacobite Express, which is the little coal train that looks like the Hogwarts Express only runs at certain times of the year, so if you want it in your photos plan ahead. In 2019 it is operating from 22nd April – 25th October on weekdays and 4th May – 29th September on weekends. The advice is to get to the Glenfinnan viewpoint fifteen minutes after the train departs Fort William, so if it departs at 10:15 am, then be ready at 10:30 am at the viaduct. Same for the return train. If it’s due to arrive in Fort William at 4:30 pm, then be ready with your camera at 4:15 pm. Apparently, in summer it gets very busy at these train times, and parking becomes a nightmare.
Where We Stayed: Ardarroch BnB
This place is picturesque and beautiful inside and out. It’s on the shore of Shiel Loch with the hills behind it. The breakfast was delicious and the couple who run the place are great to chat to.
Where We Ate: The Prince’s House Hotel
They recommend that you book in advance at this place as they source local ingredients and prefer to know how many people they’re cooking for. However, we called a few hours before we turned up and there was no problem. The food was really tasty and you listen to the little brook outside the restaurant, which is also the pure water you drink over dinner. We were the only ones in the restaurant and ended up chatting with the locals, some of them we could understand, others I’m still not sure if he was saying ‘fish’ or ‘face’.
Whiskey Distillery Tour - Glengoyne
If you visit Scotland you definitely need to do a distillery tour. I’ve done Oban Distillery and now Glengoyne and both have been really interesting. You’ll learn at each that their Scotch is the best Scotch in Scotland. We did the Gold Tasting at Glengoyne and it was really interesting, We got to try some really tasty Scotch and the gentleman who took the tour was very funny and knowledgable.