When I look back on my travels in 2023 (of which there were kind of a lot), my favorite memories are from the week-long road trip I took with my husband in Scotland. He met me in Glasgow in between two trip leading assignments I had in Ireland & Scotland, and we set out for an adventure on the road!
A quintessentially American characteristic of ours, Sam and I love taking road trips together. Scotland is the perfect destination for a road trip, thanks to stunning vistas, well-maintained roads, and a seemingly endless number of route options. For this particular trip, we wanted to maximize our time together, along with amazing late spring weather, so we set an ambitious itinerary with many stops along the way.
In this blog post, I am sharing all the lessons we learned on the road, as well as a detailed breakdown of our daily itinerary. This is the ultimate 1 week Scotland road trip itinerary, visiting all the highlights you want to see as a first-time visitor.
How to See Scotland’s Classic Highlights in 1 Week
Overview of this 7-Day Scotland Itinerary
To start off with, Scotland is deceptively big. 1 week in Scotland is only going to give you a taste of the wonderful things this region has to offer. If you're a first time visitor to Scotland, you're going to have to make some tough choices about what specifically you are interested in seeing, because 1 week simply isn't enough time to see it all.
Designed as a road trip, I think driving is the easiest and most efficient way to experience the majestic beauty of Scotland. This itinerary could work very well for camper vans, but also for folks who prefer to stay in hotels (such as myself). For each day of the itinerary, I include the approximate driving time. In total, this itinerary includes around 18 hours of driving spread across 7 days.
I understand that 18 hours is a lot of driving for some people. You can easily slow down this itinerary, spending one or two extra days in each place, turning this into a 10 day or 14 day itinerary.
However, I have designed this itinerary specifically for people with minimal vacation days who want to maximize their time in Scotland. It is fast-paced, and you’ll be changing locations often with no more than a couple days in one location. While this isn’t everyone’s travel style, I believe it gives first-time visitors a perfect taste of Scotland – and hopefully encourages a return visit!
1 Week in Scotland Itinerary
Day 1: Glasgow
Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, is a dynamic and culturally rich metropolis, serving as a perfect place to begin your 1 week trip around Scotland. While Glasgow can be rough around the edges, it is 100% worth a visit. I love a city with some grit and character, and Glasgow definitely has that. Locals are very proud of their city and it just has a cool vibe about it.
Glasgow has two distinct sides – the East End and the West End. The East End is characterized by a blend of industrial history and urban regeneration. This area has undergone significant revitalization efforts in recent years, so you'll find a mix of traditional and modern developments. West Glasgow exudes a more refined and affluent atmosphere. It's often associated with the University of Glasgow and features elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture.
At its core, Glasgow is a cultural powerhouse. It's a city that has produced world-renowned architects like Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose Art Nouveau designs have left an indelible mark on the cityscape. Art lovers will revel in Glasgow's numerous museums and incredible street art, including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. To avoid this post getting too long, I have gone more in depth into planning a visit to Glasgow in a separate post.
Where to Stay in Glasgow
If you’re only in Glasgow for a short time, I would recommend choosing a hotel in the city center near a train stop, so that you can easily get around. I particularly like the Clayton Hotel on the river. The rooms are spacious and the amenities are great. Apex City Hotel is another solid option. The staff here is SO friendly and helpful.
Another option, if you want to start your road trip a day early, is Mar Hall. Located just 20 minutes outside of Glasgow to the west, this luxury hotel inside an Edwardian Mansion that has welcomed members of the royal family in the past. This 240-acre golf estate overlooks the River Clyde and even has a spa. I absolutely loved our stay here. Most comfortable sleep of the whole trip!
Where to Eat in Glasgow
- Broken Clock Cafe: High quality French patisserie without the pretentious attitude.
- Loveable Rogue: a locally owned neighborhood joint that specializes in classic Scottish dishes prepared with modern refinement. Their haggis balls are awesome! It is also renowned for its carefully crafted cocktails, showcasing creative concoctions and a well-curated selection of spirits.
- Butchershop: renowned steakhouse, celebrated for its exceptional cuts of meat and sophisticated dining experience. This upscale restaurant offers a menu that showcases the finest Scottish produce, including some of the best scallops I’ve ever had.
- The Citizen: chic and bustling option in the heart of Glasgow. Scottish pub favorites, including a delightful shepherd's pie.
Day 2: Glasgow to Oban
Total Driving Time: Approximately 3 hours with included stops
Time to start your Scotland road trip! Pick up your rental car at Glasgow Airport, or at one of the pick up locations in the city. You'll start making your way northwest and officially enter the Highlands. The plan for today is to make several stops along the route from Glasgow to Oban, including some of Scotland’s most iconic places.
Stop One: Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond, the largest inland lake in Great Britain, is a shimmering jewel in the country's natural landscape. Serving as the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, this is a perfect place to stop. Go for a scenic boat ride on the loch with Sweeney’s Cruise Co. Encircled by rolling hills, lush forests, and dramatic mountain peaks, Loch Lomond has crystal-clear waters which often reflect the sky perfectly creating a beautiful mirrored effect.
Stop Two: Luss
With its traditional slate stone cottages, beautiful lakeside beach, and a serene atmosphere, Luss is the embodiment of a tranquil Scottish hamlet. Cottage-core comes to life! There are just 120 residents who live here full time, but more than 70,000 visitors come to this village each year. Go behind the scenes of Luss with my Instagram Reel about it. Wander through the village until you reach the historic church, where you can hunt for a gravestone that dates back to the Vikings!
Stop 3: St. Conan’s Kirk
Nestled on the shores of Loch Awe in Scotland, St Conan’s Kirk is a captivating blend of architectural grandeur and natural beauty. This unique church, designed by architect Walter Douglas Campbell, features a whimsical mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine elements. The church's picturesque setting and its remarkable interior, complete with intricate woodwork and stunning stained glass windows, make it a truly enchanting place. There is a tearoom onsite if you’re feeling peckish along the drive.
Stop 4: Oban
Oban is a surprisingly cute harbor town renowned for its maritime heritage and warm hospitality. Oban was once a bustling fishing and shipbuilding hub, and remnants of this heritage can be seen in its historic architecture, such as McCaig's Tower—a colosseum-like structure that offers panoramic views of the town and surrounding islands. Sit along the shores to enjoy Oban’s picturesque harbor, which is always full of bobbing fishing boats and sailboats. It is especially impressive around sunset! The Oban Distillery, established in the late 18th century, showcases the town's connection to the whisky industry. It was one of our favorite distillery tours we did during our entire time in Scotland!
Where to Stay Around Loch Lomond & Oban
For a luxury stay on the shores of Loch Lomond, there are two great options. Firstly, Ardlui Retreat has recently gone through a massive renovation, making it a premier and unique accommodation provider in the area. The eight brand new luxurious lodges with private hot tubs and lakeview terraces offer outstanding comfort . For a more historic option, consider Cameron House. It has housed Great Britain’s elites, including Winston Churchill, for generations. You can choose from self-catering lodges, holiday cottages or luxurious Mansion House suites.
For something in Oban, I can highly recommend No.17 on the Promenade. This gorgeously designed boutique hotel sits directly on the water just a few minutes walk from town. Each room has a unique design and the staff is super friendly.
Where to Eat Around Loch Lomond & Oban
- Auchentullich Farm Shop: Fresh dairy and produce on an adorable family-owned farm. They have Highland cows onsite. Try the Tablet ice cream!
- Tullie Inn: Steps away from the Loch Lomond scenic boat dock, they’ve got homey food in a modern space. Their fish pie is SO good.
- Pier Kitchen & Bar: Also near the boat dock, you’ll find more creative Scottish dishes here. Their fish & chips are delicious.
- Oban Fish & Chip Shop: Best fish & chips in Oban. There are takeaway or dine-in options.
- Coast Restaurant: Modern Scottish restaurant in a former bank building. Excellent local seafood and fish with an upscale vibe.
Day 3: Glencoe
Total Driving Time: Approximately 3 hours round trip
Set within the heart of the Scottish Highlands, Glencoe is a region of awe-inspiring natural beauty. No really. In a country full of gorgeous places, Glencoe's rugged terrain is nothing short of legendary. Towering, craggy peaks, including the famous Three Sisters, encircle a lush glen (or valley) carved by glaciers millennia ago. The glen's breathtaking beauty is accentuated by cascading waterfalls, serene lochs, and winding trails. With its remarkable geology and dramatic vistas, it's no wonder that Glencoe has been featured in films and inspired countless artists and writers.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Glencoe is a playground like no other. Hikers and climbers flock to its challenging peaks, including Buachaille Etive Mòr and Bidean nam Bian, or even Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. I’m not the biggest outdoor girlie in the world, so I mostly wanted to come to Glencoe for photography. Glencoe's ever-changing natural light is a photographer’s dream. The interplay of sun and shadow on the mountains, the reflections in pristine lochs, and the moody atmospheres of mist and fog are incredibly inspiring.
Optional Stop: Glenfinnan Viaduct
If you're into Harry Potter, Scotland is a great destination to dive into lore that may have inspired the books. One of the most famous Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This iconic bridge can be seen in a couple of movies, but the most famous scene is in the second film when Ron & Harry fly the Weasley’s car to Hogwarts. It weaves through the arches of the bridge and nearly gets hit by the Hogwarts Express.
To avoid this post getting too long, click here to read about all the logistics involved with visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct. We went to the viaduct for the morning Jacobite train crossing, arriving about 1 hour before the train. Thankfully, we were able to secure a parking spot as well as a good viewing spot for the train. There is a visitors center that has bathrooms and a small cafe. The site gets very crowded though, and I’m not gonna lie, it is pretty touristy. The viaduct itself is really beautiful, so I think it is worth visiting, but I’m not sure you need to see the train crossing unless you’re a big Potterhead.
Where to Stay Around Glencoe
If you’re sick of changing hotels each day, this is a perfect opportunity to book two nights in Oban. The drive from Oban to the Glencoe area isn’t super long (45-55 minutes depending on where you’re going), and it is really straightforward.
If you’d prefer something in Glencoe, consider Glencoe House. This historic mansion, the former home of Lord Strathcona, offers luxury rooms as well as suites, all of which have a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains. For something a bit off-beat, RiverBeds Luxury Wee Lodges are a fun choice. These tiny homes sit on a literal babbling brook beneath the hills. Only stay here outside of midge season (i.e, not in summer) when you can sleep with the windows open.
Where to Eat Around Glencoe
There aren’t a ton of restaurants in this area, and all restaurants stop serving at 8pm. Make a reservation and go early, otherwise you might be getting food from the grocery store.
- The Geographer: Global bistro fare, cocktails and beers from around the world served in a cozy, convivial setting.
- Sammy's Fish & Chip Shop: Venerable counter-service shop serving fish 'n' chips, burgers & kebabs in small, unfussy surrounds.
Day 4: Inverness
Total Driving Time: Approximately 4 hours with included stops
Time to leave the coast and head further north into Scotland’s mythic highlands. As you head out of town, keep in mind that traffic around Fort William can be realllllly bad. Make sure to budget a bit of extra time to go through. There are a lot of motorcyclists in this area, especially on the weekends, so driving can be stressful.
The drive to Inverness is very picturesque, so keep your camera handy. You’re going to start seeing lots of barren hillsides and lochs along the way. Grab lunch at the charming Quila Cridhe Tearoom which has adorable highland cows on site. Also make a stop at the historic Loch Ness on your way into Inverness. Search for the mythical Loch Ness Monster on the shores of one of Scotland’s deepest freshwater lakes.
Inverness is a gateway destination in northern Scotland. This relatively small city is a pleasant stopover for anyone on a road trip through Scotland. There are several options for food and accommodation, as well as a few nice attractions. Inverness is the cultural and historical heart of the Scottish Highlands, and I have highlighted all of my favorite things to do in Inverness in a separate blog post.
Where to Stay in Inverness
Because Inverness is so walkable, I would recommend booking a hotel or AirBnb near the city center. BlueNess is a self-catered flat that’s reasonably affordable. We stayed at AC Hotel by Marriott which had large rooms and great amenities, plus river view rooms. On-Site parking as well! For a stylish boutique option, the Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel has highland decor that sets the tone for a truly Scottish experience.
Where to Eat in Inverness
- Original Milk Bar: ideal spot for coffee and treats. Menu is small, but super high quality. It has a great location on the river with a nice view and a great patio
- Perk Coffee + Doughnuts: Truly amazing donuts which all have cute names. They are big and rich, but totally worth the calories. Toasties were also really nice. Coffee was excellent.
- Mustard Seed: Great option for groups, especially foodies. It has a slightly upscale vibe with colorful decor. But not at all pretentious. Amazing mussels with cream sauce and a full gin menu.
- Fig & Thistle: Cozy neighborhood bistro with a pan-European menu. The cocktails are surprisingly good and the vibe is relaxed.
- Cafe 1: This spot is slightly out of the way, but the food was great. The aesthetic is random and quirky.
Day 5: Speyside & Cairngorms
Total Driving Time: Approximately 3 hours round trip
Characterized by rolling hills, lush green valleys, and a unique microclimate, Speyside is the region surrounding River Spey in the northeast corner of Scotland. It is SO pastoral, and just pretty. My Midwestern soul loved it here. Go behind-the-scenes of my time in Speyside on my Instagram Reel to discover the hidden gems we loved.
The River Spey is one of Scotland’s cleanest and longest rivers, providing an excellent source of fresh water. Given that water is a key ingredient in distillation, it is unsurprising that many whisky distillers have opened up shop in this region. Speyside is home to more than half of Scotland's distilleries, and it is often referred to as the "Whisky Capital of the World.
The thing to do in Speyside is whisky, and you’ll see brown historic signs following the Speyside Whisky Trail. Along this trail, you'll find an exquisite collection of distilleries, each with its own unique character and flavors. Most distilleries offer tours and tastings, as well as a gift shop. A few of our favorite distilleries in Speyside include Aberlour Distillery, Cragganmore Distillery, and Balvenie Distillery. As you explore, you'll learn about the art of whisky-making, from the malting process to aging in oak barrels, and have the opportunity to savor a diverse range of Scotch whiskies.
The headwaters of River Spey originate in Cairngorms National Park, a sprawling 4,500 square kilometers expanse of raw, untamed beauty. It is the UK's largest national park and offers a breathtaking tapestry of mountains, forests, rivers, and wildlife. In my opinion, it embodies the very essence of Scotland's rugged charm. Driving through the park is spectacular.
The park's centerpiece is the Cairngorms mountain range, which includes five of the six highest peaks in Scotland. These majestic mountains, adorned with granite cliffs and craggy peaks, provide a playground for climbers and hikers. Cairngorms National Park is also home to some of Scotland's most iconic wildlife, including red deer, golden eagles, ospreys, and the elusive Scottish wildcat. Nature enthusiasts can sign up for guided tours for glimpses of these remarkable animals in their natural habitats.
Finally, Cairngorms National Park is a designated Dark Sky Park, meaning it offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in the UK. On clear nights, the park's remote location and minimal light pollution provide an unrivaled view of the cosmos. If you want to take advantage of this status, stay in the Speyside area for close proximity.
Where to Stay in Speyside & Cairngorms
For a charming option in the heart of Speyside, opt for the beautiful and historic Craigellachie Hotel. Condé Nast Traveler described it as “the oldest and greatest whisky hotel in the world”. Combining the style and elegance of a bygone era with the most modern of hotel facilities, you will enjoy views of the River Spey and the famous Craigellachie Bridge.
Designed in quintessential Highlands design, Delnashaugh is a historic inn nestled within the wooded glens of Ballindalloch Estate overlooking the River Avon. The massive estate has private hiking trails and fishing spots onsite.
Just on the edge of Cairngorms National Park is Atholl Palace Hotel. This historic Victorian gem sits atop a large hill and is even visible from the highway. It has stunning panoramic views of the area! It offers luxurious accommodations, fine dining, and leisure facilities, including a spa and pool.
Where to Eat in Speyside & Cairngorms
- Kimberly Inn: Have lunch here before driving into Speyside, because they have the most amazing fish & chips. It’s a huge portion, and in general, just a cute beachside spot.
- Quaich Bar: In the heart of Speyside, sample over 1,000 single-malt whiskies and fabulous cocktails
- Spey Larder: adorable deli with an amazing selection of local cheese and meats.
Day 6: Stirling
Total Driving Time: Approximately 3 hours
As your 1 week road trip around Scotland winds down, you’ll be driving south and exiting the highlands. On the way to Stirling, make a stop at Dalwhinnie Distillery. The distillery is impressive and the high altitude has a profound impact on the whisky's character. This was our favorite whisky that we brought home with us, and I am dying to go back!
Stirling is a captivating city where history, culture, and natural beauty converge. Perched proudly atop an ancient volcanic hill overlooking the entire valley, Stirling Castle is the crown jewel of the city. Stirling Castle played a central role in the nation's history. The castle dates back over a thousand years, and it has been a royal residence, military stronghold, and symbol of Scottish power. It was here that the young Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned, and the Battle of Stirling Bridge, led by William Wallace, unfolded on the surrounding fields.
The castle itself is a masterpiece of Scottish Renaissance architecture. Its stunning facade, with its ornate gates, towers, and battlements, is a testament to the wealth and ambition of the Stuart monarchs. Visitors can explore the beautifully restored Great Hall, the Royal Palace, and the Renaissance Palace. From the castle's elevated position, you will get incredible sweeping panoramic views of Stirling and the surrounding countryside, including the Ochil Hills and the Wallace Monument in the distance.
Stirling's charm extends beyond the castle's walls. The historic old town features cobbled streets, centuries-old buildings, and a vibrant atmosphere. The Church of the Holy Rude, a medieval church where James VI was crowned, is a must-visit, as is the atmospheric Stirling Old Bridge, which spans the River Forth.
Where to Stay in Stirling
I loved my stay at the Stirling Highland Hotel. Housed in a well-maintained 19th-century building, the hotel boasts Victorian grandeur and modern comfort with elegant architecture and impeccable interiors. Given its prime location just steps away from Stirling Castle, you’ll also be able to enjoy the onsite spa and delicious restaurant.
Where to Eat in Stirling
- Apiary: perfect stop on drive to Stirling, just around the corner from Dalwhinnie Distillery. Delightful assortment of Scottish lunchtime favorites with extremely friendly staff and a massive outdoor patio.
- Aran Bakery: Another amazing roadside stop on the drive south. Best baked goods & breads I had during our week in Scotland.
- Allan Park Restaurant: Inside a hotel, but SO so good. I loved the stewed meat dishes here, along with the best Sticky Toffee Pudding I had in Scotland.
Day 7: Edinburgh
Total Driving Time: Approximately 1 hour
Ending on a high note, you are going to be blown away by the incredible history and culture of Edinburgh. From the enchanting charm of Old Town to the elegance of the New Town's Georgian avenues, I just love this city! Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, an art aficionado, or simply seeking to immerse yourself in the city's enchanting ambiance, Edinburgh is a city that can appeal to every type of traveler.
I think you could easily spend 3 or 4 days exploring Edinburgh, because there is simply so much to see! But with only one last day in Scotland, I would recommend hitting the major highlights such as the imposing Edinburgh Castle and the hidden close alleyways along the Royal Mile. If you've got more time, I unveil all my favorite spots in Edinburgh in a separate blog post. I break down the must-visit attractions, the culinary delights, and the hidden gems that make Edinburgh such an incredible destination in Scotland.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
- Parliament House Hotel: Located at the base of Calton Hill at the end of Princes Street, this hotel is just far enough away from the touristy areas to avoid noise without being an inconvenient walk. Styled nicely with tartan and highland touches. I’ve stayed here a few times, and their breakfast is great!
- The Witchery: A luxurious and unique boutique hotel for the extreme Harry Potter fans. It makes you feel like a little wizard with beautifully designed rooms! Plus, it is steps from Edinburgh Castle and has a renowned restaurant.
- Balmoral: This 5-star luxury hotel is a big splurge, but it has one of the best locations & views in the city. It is so iconic that JK Rowling even finished the Harry Potter series in the penthouse room.
- Apex Grassmarket Hotel: Overlooking the lively Grassmarket square, this contemporary hotel provides modern amenities and stunning views of the Castle.
Where to Eat in Edinburgh
Perfect for foodies, you can find a delightful assortment of culinary outposts, award-winning restaurants, and cozy speakeasy bars in Edinburgh. I highlight the best spots in my dedicated Edinburgh restaurant guide. Find all my favorite foodie spots by clicking the button below.
Bonus: Add Isle of Skye
I bet you’re wondering how this first-timer’s itinerary to Scotland didn’t include one of the most iconic places in Scotland – Isle of Skye. Most people will tell you that Isle of Skye is a must-visit destination in Scotland, and all first timers should prioritize going there. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Scotland after all. And look, I loved Skye. I thought it was gorgeous with lots of cool places.
However, I purposely didn’t include it in this 1 week Scotland itinerary for a couple of reasons:
- Distance: Isle of Skye adds on A LOT more driving to a 1 week itinerary, because it is quite remote. It looks nearby on the map, but it will increase drive times by at least 6-8 hours. Plus, you need a minimum of two nights on the island to really enjoy it.
- Crowds: Only about 13,000 people live on Isle of Skye throughout the year, but the population swells in summer as the island welcomes 650,000 visitors annually. This is a massive burden on the island’s infrastructure, and can lead to some unenjoyable experiences for locals and tourists alike.
- Instagram Effect: While Skye is indeed beautiful, a lot of people who flock there expect it to look like they saw online. In an age of virality, it is important to keep in mind that content you see on TikTok or Instagram features unrealistic, unattainable views of empty natural places shot at ungodly hours in the morning from drones by professional influencers and photographers. That isn’t what your experience is going to look like, especially not if you are rushing through the isle on a 1 week road trip.
I’m not saying don’t go there. As I said, I loved my visit to Skye. What I am advocating is that you choose Skye intentionally. If you want more details about planning a visit to Skye, check out my comprehensive Isle of Skye travel guide. One way to determine whether Skye is right for your itinerary is reviewing how much time you can dedicate. If you can add a few extra days to your Scotland vacation, Isle of Skye is a great choice. It fits nicely into this itinerary between Glencoe & Inverness, because you can get to Skye on a ferry from Mallaig.
Have thoughts or questions about this 1 week Scotland Road Trip? Tell me in the comments below!
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