Last Updated on June 6, 2021 by Maggie McKneely
This 8-day Scotland itinerary will help you make the most of your short amount of time in this beautiful country.
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It was love at first sight when I landed in bonnie green Scotland.
The country’s penchant for bagpipes and tartan stoles, its balance of friendliness and hospitality with tenacity and stubbornness, its schizophrenic weather, and oh, those glorious, untamable highlands – I loved all of it. I haven’t disliked any place I’ve been, but I’ve never been quite so keen to return to anywhere like I am this beautiful corner of the world.
If you’re planning an upcoming trip to Scotland, you may feel overwhelmed about how to narrow down your list of what to see – I know I did! Because there’s just SO MUCH. While 8 days isn’t enough to see everything, you can cover a surprising amount of ground in that short amount of time! If you want to experience a little bit of everything Scotland has to offer – historic castles, natural beauty, big cities, and small towns – this Scotland itinerary is for you.
Tips for Visiting Scotland
Getting Around Scotland
Overall, public transportation in Scotland is pretty good. The country has an extensive road and rail network – you can get to most places via train or bus. But if you want to explore the countryside, you’ll find that renting a car is the best way to go.
Even though it meant driving on the left side of the road (which was definitely not as bad as I expected!), my family rented a car because we prefer the flexibility that comes with that. This itinerary works best with a rental car, but know that you can use buses and trains if you prefer. If you choose to rent a car, be sure to check out these great road trip tips!
Scotland (and the United Kingdom) uses the British Pound = £. Credit cards are widely accepted.
For one flat fee, the Scotland Explorer Pass grants you access to over 70 different locations. These included some of the largest tourist attractions such as Urquhart, Edinburgh, and Stirling Castles. You can buy either a 3-day, 7-day, or 14-day pass. The 7-day pass is £32, so if you visit at least three places included with the pass, it pays for itself. If you visit more than three, you save lots of money.
I recommend looking at the list of locations that the pass will get you into and if you plan on exploring enough of them, the Explorer Pass is a great way to save some money on your trip to Scotland. You can purchase the pass online or at any of the locations on their list.
8-Day Scotland Itinerary
Day 1: Drive to Inverness
If you’re flying into Scotland, you’ll likely land in either Edinburgh or Glasgow (they’re only about an hour apart). Glasgow isn’t included in this Scotland itinerary, so I recommend you pick Edinburgh as your airport. But whichever city you start in, pick up your rental car and start driving north towards the capital of the Highlands, Inverness.
It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from either Glasgow or Edinburgh to Inverness, so consider making stops along the way – such as the adorable towns of Birnam and Dunkeld. For those who grew up reading the Tales of Peter Rabbit, Birnam is home to the Beatrix Potter Garden and Exhibit. And Dunkeld, just across the stream, is a gorgeous one-street village filled with artisan shops that is a great place to get out and stretch your legs.
You could also stop at Leault Farms in Aviemore and see a working sheepdog demonstration! This was one of the things I was most excited for, but unfortunately, we had some issues getting our rental car and weren’t able to make our demonstration reservation. But I’ve had many people recommend it and it sounds so cool, so if you get the chance, go! (And tell me about it!)
No matter where you go on the way though, your last stop will be Inverness. By the time you get there, you’ll probably be hungry for dinner, so here’s a very important note: everything shuts down by 8 PM. Yes, you read that right. When my family arrived in town just before 8, we wandered around town desperately trying to find food. The few places that were open were only serving drinks. So don’t be us – either get there earlier or have snacks on hand so you don’t go to bed hungry!
Once you get back to your hotel, rest up for an adventure-filled week.
Where to Stay in Inverness
Inverness is the largest city in the Scottish Highlands and has plenty of lodging options, especially if you’re only staying one night like we did. We stayed at the Balcroydon B&B. The breakfast was amazing, the host was incredibly helpful and friendly, and the rooms were comfortable and clean, and the price was right! I definitely recommend it.
Day 2: Loch Ness, Urquhart, Eilean Donan
Day 2 of this Scotland itinerary kicks off with a trip to go see Nessie! Loch Ness is just a short drive from Inverness. Yes, it’s touristy. No, it’s not Scotland’s most stunning lake. If it weren’t on the way to other, more exciting parts of this Scotland itinerary, I may suggest you skip it. But since it IS on the way, it’s worth a stop – I mean, do you really want to miss the chance of seeing the elusive Loch Ness monster?!
Heads up if you’re driving, though – the two-lane road along Loch Ness is VERY narrow and curvy, so just be mentally prepared!
On the shores of Loch Ness is the famous Urquhart Castle. The over-1000-year-old ruins have seen some of Scotland’s most dramatic chapters. It’s not an intact castle (hello, it is over 1000 years old!!), but history buffs visiting Loch Ness will enjoy wandering among the crumbling walls of the ancient fortress.
Urquhart Castle visitor info:
- Admission: £12 for adults, £7.20 for children ages 5-15, OR free with an Explorer Pass (see mentioned above)
- Hours: Opens at 9:30 AM but closing times vary. Go here to check the full listing.
The next stop on the itinerary is another, but very different, castle – picturesque Eilean Donan. Eilean Donan Castle, with its romantic turrets, stone footbridge, and location on an island where three sea lochs meet, is one of the most photographed places in Scotland. It’s been featured in a number of films, including James Bond. And amazingly, the 13th-century castle is still privately owned, which may explain its near-perfect preservation.
One of Scotland’s most popular attractions, Eilean Donan is a must-see part of any Scotland itinerary. You get the chance to tour a real-life working castle with a long history in a stunning setting.
Eilean Donan Castle visitor info:
- Admission: £10 for adults, £6 for children over 5, free for children 5 and under
- Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM October thru March, 10 AM – 6 PM April thru September
Not that there’s anywhere ugly on this Scotland itinerary, but this day is full of driving through beautiful scenery. From driving along Loch Ness to passing through the mountains on the way to Eilean Donan, there’s plenty of eye candy to satisfy you. And to cap off the day after your Eilean Donan visit, you get to drive across Loch Alsh via Skye Bridge, where you’ll get your first glimpse of the Isle of Skye.
If you’re hungry when you arrive on Skye, there’s a delicious cafe just a few miles after the bridge called Deli Gasta. We stopped here for a late lunch/early dinner before checking into our B&B. The cheese and charcuterie board included locally sourced smoked salmon and crawfish, and they have a range of unusual but delightful sandwiches!
Where to stay on the Isle of Skye
The two main towns with accommodations on Skye are Portree and Broadford. Skye isn’t large, so both towns are as close to the main sites as anything else. In the summertime, know that things book up very quickly because options are limited.
We stayed at an adorable Airbnb called Dunedin B&B in Broadford. The hosts, Rob and Yvonne, were absolutely amazing – funny, helpful, and served a delicious Scottish breakfast of homemade flapjacks, almond cake, and all sorts of other yummy options.
Day 3: Isle of Skye
Day 3 of this Scotland itinerary is all about the amazing Isle of Skye.
The Isle of Skye is one of the most jaw-droppingly stunning and otherworldly places on earth. Its jagged mountains tower over the landscape, green expanses devoid of vegetation, tumbling waterfalls, and secretive glens make it a highlight of any Scotland itinerary. And today you get the whole day to explore this gem of an island.
Start off early by taking a hike to the Old Man of Storr. This is one of Skye’s most iconic hikes; at only 2 miles roundtrip, it’s an excellent way to enjoy the island’s natural beauty without taking up too much of your time. For all the details you need, check out my full post on the Old Man of Storr hike.
Spend the rest of the day exploring a handful of other sites on Skye. Unfortunately for us, Scotland’s fickle weather put a damper on our own plans for Skye, as it started downpouring after our hike (but it did at least hold off until we were done hiking!). We ended up doing a driving tour around the Isle of Skye rather than getting out and exploring more on foot (another good reason to rent a car). But if the weather cooperates, there are lots of places you can (and should) visit!
Things do on the Isle of Skye:
- Kilt Rock – This is a famous sea cliff a few miles north of the Old Man of Storr that resembles a kilt. It’s an easy stop on your way from hiking to somewhere else.
- Dunvegan Castle – This is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and the ancestral home of Clan McLeod. The castle and grounds are renowned (and are one of the few places you can see seals!)
- Neist Point Lighthouse – Arguably the most photographed lighthouse in Scotland, Neist Point marks the most westerly point of the Isle of Skye.
- Fairy Pools – These rock pools are an extremely popular spot. They’re beautiful and easy to walk to, but you may want to avoid them during peak tourist season.
- Talisker Distillery – One of the world’s most famous Scotch whiskey distilleries is located on Skye. It’s open for tours, but you do need to make reservations well in advance.
- Find Scottish Highland Cows (“Hairy Coos”) – This should definitely be on your Scotland itinerary, regardless of the weather. I thought these would be everywhere in Scotland, but they’re not. We only saw them a handful of times and one of those places was in a remote area on Skye! We asked our B&B hosts where we might find them, and after driving several miles down a one-lane road, we finally stumbled upon the island’s herd. 10/10 recommend making the effort to find them as these animals are amazing!
Day 4: Glenfinnan & Fort William
You won’t want to leave the Isle of Skye, but there is still so much of Scotland to see! Instead of crossing back over Skye bridge, drive to Armadale to catch the ferry to Mallaig. The next stop on this Scotland itinerary is Glenfinnan, and taking the ferry will save you a couple of hours of driving time.
If you want to reach Glenfinnan in time to see the Harry Potter train (which, of course you do), you’ll need to catch the ferry from Armadale at 8:40 AM (go here for the latest timetable). Make sure to buy ferry tickets in advance as they tend to sell out during the summer!
Once you disembark the ferry at Mallaig, it’s a short 45-minute drive to Glenfinnan and its world-famous viaduct. Harry Potter fans will recognize it immediately for its many appearances in the films. And twice a day, the Jacobite steam train, aka the Hogwarts Express, crosses the bridge. If you catch that early morning ferry, you’ll arrive in Glenfinnan just in time to park and find a spot to watch the train! Check out my comprehensive guide on how to see the Harry Potter train at Glenfinnan.
Now that your inner Harry Potter-loving child is satisfied, get back in your car and drive another 40 minutes to Fort William. This Highlands town is located at the base of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain, so it’s a haven for you outdoor adventurers!
But before you go scrambling up a munro, stop in at Ben Nevis Distillery for a Scottish Whisky tour. This distillery is one of the oldest licensed producers of Scotch in the country, but because it isn’t on the famous “whisky trail,” it’s not usually crowded. This is a great opportunity to learn all about how Scotch is made and taste some excellent whisky without a bunch of other tourists!
Just outside of Fort William is the gorgeous Glen Nevis. This stunning, lush valley has been featured in several films, including Braveheart, Outlander, and Harry Potter. There are a plethora of trails here, from gentle walks through meadows to strenuous treks up Ben Nevis and its neighbors, and the endpoint of the West Highland Way.
But if you want one that’s not too long, only moderately difficult, and comes with a big payoff, you should do the Steall Falls Hike. Steall Waterfall is the second-highest in Scotland and is tucked away at the end of Glen Nevis. For all the details on this incredible hike, check out my Steall Waterfall post.
After a long day of trainspotting, whisky tasting, and hiking, time to check into your next hotel!
Where to stay near Fort William & Glen Coe
Fort William is a decent-sized city, with a number of hotels and B&Bs. But my family opted to stay closer to Glen Coe, which is the next stop on this Scotland itinerary.
Tigh na Cheo is in Kinlochleven, about 35 minutes from Fort William. It’s a lovely B&B nestled in a stunning glen surrounded by towering mountains. The hosts were incredibly kind and the personalized breakfast each morning was amazing! And, it’s budget-friendly. We spent two nights here and it was just perfect for us.
Day 5: Glencoe
Ah, Glencoe. On the list of places that make you say “wow, this place is too beautiful to actually be real,” Glencoe must be near the top. This majestic valley with a dark history can’t be left off of any Scotland itinerary. That’s why Day 5 is dedicated to exploring it!
Glencoe was the site of the massacre of Clan MacDonald in 1692 after the Jacobite uprising, but today is known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK and people flock here to appreciate its natural beauty.
The National Trust of Scotland has protected Glencoe from development since 1935, and their visitor center at the valley’s entrance is well worth visiting. The exhibits there explain the glen’s ecological history, the famous massacre, its impact on mountaineering, and how it was rescued by the trust.
After checking out the visitors’ center, get outside and explore the glen on foot! This is an adventurer’s paradise, after all.
There are trails for people of all physical abilities. For a short stroll through the woods, consider the An Torr – Signal Rock trail. Legend has it that Signal Rock is where the signal was given to begin the MacDonald massacre. This easy walk winds through a coniferous forest and offers amazing views of the glen’s Three Sisters.
Check out this post on more great hikes in Glencoe!
Scottish weather being Scottish weather (don’t forget to include rain gear on your packing list!), we were prevented from doing all that I had planned in Glencoe. If that happens to you, you can still enjoy Glencoe from the car (plus, fog and clouds can make for some pretty epic pictures!).
Consider driving to Glen Etive, made famous by James Bond’s Skyfall. At the opposite end of Glencoe from the visitor’s center, there’s a road that goes off to the right from the main highway. This one-lane road travels several miles through the Glen Etive, flanked by towering mountains, waterfalls, and tumbling streams the whole way. You may even spy the glen’s herd of red deer!
Day 6: Loch Lomond & Stirling
Day 6 is the last day with your rental car, if you got one! You’ll end the day (and your Scotland itinerary) in Edinburgh, but there’s plenty to see along the way.
Like famous Loch Lomond. If you take highway A82 when leaving Glencoe, you’ll drive right along the banks of one of Great Britain’s largest lakes. Places to stop at include the Falls of Falloch, a beautiful waterfall and popular picnic spot located just a short way off the main road.
There’s also Drovers Inn, arguably the most well-known inn and pub in Scotland. For 300 years, the inn has been welcoming outlaws, authors, hikers, and anyone wandering to and from the Highlands. If you drive by around lunchtime, the inn will be happy to welcome you too.
Before you reach Edinburgh, stop first at Stirling Castle, one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland.
Stirling Castle is an extremely impressive site, perched high on Castle Hill above the town of Stirling and the surrounding farmland. It has played an important role in Scottish history for centuries – it’s been sieged over 8 times and been the site of countless battles. Bonnie Prince Charlie and William Wallace fought the English here, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here, and numerous kings and queens, both Scottish and English, have passed through its halls.
Though the castle dates back to at least the 12th century, most of the current structures were built between the 14th and 16th centuries and are in excellent condition. A major restoration project was undertaken in the early 2000s, so the interior of Stirling Castle is just as impressive as the outside.
Stirling Castle is exactly how you’d imagine a medieval, royal castle would be, complete with luxurious tapestries, a soaring Great Hall, and a real-life history full of backstabbing, drama, and intrigue. A visit here will be a highlight of your Scotland itinerary!
Stirling Castle visitor info:
- Admission: £16 for adults, £9.60 for kids OR free with an Explorer Pass (see above)
- Hours: 9:30 AM – 6PM (summer), 9:30 AM – 5 PM (winter)
After you leave Stirling, head to Edinburgh airport to drop off your rental car. From there, you can take either the tram or the bus to city center and your last hotel. Both are very easy to use; just check with your hotel or host to see what bus or tram stop is closest!
Where to stay in Edinburgh
As the capital of Scotland, there is no shortage of places to stay in Edinburgh. From high-end luxury hotels, such as The Balmoral, where J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter, to budget-friendly hostels to everything in-between, you can find what you’re looking for.
When deciding where to stay in Edinburgh, take into account how close the neighborhood is to public transport and the places you want to go to. My family stayed at a gorgeous apartment AirBnB that was just a 15-minute walk from the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle, and steps from the Haymarket train station.
TIP: If you are visiting in August during the Fringe Festival, places in Edinburgh book very early and prices are much higher. So plan ahead!
Day 7: Edinburgh
Start your first day early with a tour of Edinburgh Castle. The epic fortress can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, as it looms over everything from its perch on a dormant volcano peak. Understandably, it’s the most popular tourist attraction in the city, perhaps in Scotland, and is always busy. Getting there before the gates open will save you some time standing in line.
Highlights of visiting the castle include getting to see the Scottish Crown Jewels, including the Stone of Destiny, and the Great Hall, with its massive collection of medieval swords, spears, armor, and fearsome Lochaber axes.
Edinburgh Castle visitor info:
- Hours: Opens at 9:30, but arrive by 9 if you don’t want to stand in line. Last entry is 5 PM in summer, 4 PM in winter
- Admission: If you buy tickets online, they are slightly cheaper: £17.50 for adults, £10.50 for kids OR free with an Explorer Pass.
After visiting the castle, spend the day wandering down the rest of the Royal Mile, the main street that extends from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyroodhouse at the other end.
Notable places along the Royal Mile
- Scotch Whisky Experience – It looks touristy, but DO IT. This is such a fun way to learn about whisky, and it’s extremely informative! You get to taste scotch from each of the country’s different whisky regions and tour the largest whisky collection in the world.
- Real Mary King’s Close – Did you know that modern-day Edinburgh is built on top of ancient streets? This tour takes you to the old city that’s underneath the Royal Mile. A fascinating experience!
- St. Giles Cathedral – Originally built in 1124, this beautiful cathedral is most famous for being the home church of John Knox and the Mother Church of Presbyterianism.
- Palace of Holyroodhouse – This is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. My family ran out of time to visit here, but you may find it worth doing!
- The Elephant House – Just off the Royal Mile is the Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling supposedly began writing the Harry Potter books! It’s one of the many Harry Potter-related sites in Edinburgh you should visit.
Day 8: Edinburgh
The last day of your Scotland itinerary in Edinburgh should be spent exploring the less touristy parts of the city, now that you’ve checked off the Royal Mile. Because there are plenty of amazing places to check out outside of city center!
Other Things to do in Edinburgh
- Hike up Arthur’s Seat – You may be in a city but Edinburgh has one of the most famous hikes in Scotland. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano and a moderate hike to the top will give you one of the best views of the city.
- OR Calton Hill – Not up for a hike but still want a great view? Visit Calton Hill, located right in the city center and home to Edinburgh’s Greek acropolis replica.
- Visit Dean Village – Dean Village may be the prettiest of Edinburgh’s neighborhoods and needs to be included in your Scotland itinerary. Beautiful stone homes and cobblestone streets line the Water of Leith. This is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh!
- Scott Monument and Princes Street Gardens – The Princes Street Gardens are beautiful havens of greenery located below Edinburgh Castle. The gothic-style monument to author Sir Walter Scott is located in the center and can’t be missed.
- Greyfriars Kirkyard – This cemetery is home to the famous Greyfriars Bobby statue, as well “Tom Riddle’s” gravestone, the inspiration behind the Harry Potter villain.
- Try Haggis – This is a must-do part of any Scotland itinerary. I was extremely skeptical of haggis, but let me tell you: it’s delicious! And Edinburgh has some excellent places to try it.
- One of the most popular is Scran&Scallie; one of the best dinners we had in Scotland was here! But you definitely need to make dinner reservations ahead of time.
- Another is Amber, which is inside the Scotch Whisky Experience. We ordered a sampler plate of traditional Scottish food and it was all amazing!
These two days in Edinburgh are also perfect if you only have 4 days in Scotland!
Day 9: Home
One week in Scotland is a jam-packed adventure filled with castles, monuments, and incredible natural beauty that’ll make you want to come back as soon as possible! Use your flight home to start planning that next trip 😉
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