If you’ve followed this blog at all you’ll know about the time I packed my bags and moved to wee Glasgow, Scotland. I spent a year living in Scotland’s largest city, and fell hard for this beautiful country. With its breathtaking scenery, friendly people and rich culture and history, Scotland has a lot to offer.
So when my sister flew to Scotland to see me (after not seeing her for a year!), I knew I had to plan an epic Scotland road trip. I wanted to show her the places I had come to love, and explore more of the Highlands and Scottish Islands. I set out to plan the perfect 7-day Scotland itinerary.
And well, it didn’t quite happen that way.
Because of a little thing known as coronavirus (or The End of The World) our road trip ended with a rushed 5-hour drive back to Glasgow from the Isle of Skye. I packed my flat up in a day, moved my flights forward, and flew home to New Zealand.
While my Scotland road trip didn’t go as planned, I still think I planned a pretty epic trip.
Don’t get me wrong; a week in Scotland is definitely not enough time to see it all. I lived in Scotland for a year and didn’t see everything I wanted to. But this 7-day Scotland itinerary is a great place to start if you’re short on time. You’ll get to explore some of Scotland’s cities, see some of the incredible landscapes Scotland is famed for, and taste a dram or two of whiskey. Or Irn-Bru, if that’s more your thing.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SCOTLAND
Take it from me; Scotland’s summer typically lasts about a week. (The vitamin D deficiency was real).
Scotland is wet and cold year round, and the weather is always unpredictable. But that kind of makes it easier, because no matter when you go you’re never guaranteed good weather. For longer days and fewer crowds aim for the shoulder seasons of April-June or September-October. If festivals are your thing, consider visiting in August for a taste of the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT RENTING A CAR IN SCOTLAND
If you’re short on time in Scotland, renting a car is undeniably the best way to get around.
While Scotland’s main cities are reasonably well-connected by trains and buses, public transport can often be prohibitively expensive. Seriously; trains in Scotland are not cheap. Plus, if you’re planning on getting off the beaten path at all, you’ll need a car to get around.
There’s a few things you should know about hiring a car in Scotland to make your road trip as smooth as possible.
Firstly, the large majority of hire cars in Scotland are manuals, and automatics are a lot more expensive. We opted for a compact automatic and spent £206.50 for seven days, or £29.50 per day. This was compared to Ireland where we spent €54.60 for a five day hire. We used Skyscanner to search for the best deal and ended up booking a car with Enterprise.
Cars in Scotland drive on the left. This was fine for me as we also drive on the left in New Zealand, but if you’re not used to driving on the left you want to make sure you’ll be comfortable doing so in Scotland. A lot of the roads in the Highlands are narrow and are often one lane only. While there are plenty of passing places, drive sensibly and take it slow.
SCOTLAND QUICK TIPS
Currency: The official currency in Scotland is the Pound Sterling (GBP). 1 pound is equivalent to roughly 1.24 USD.
Language: Scotland has three officially recognised languages: English, Scots and Scottish-Gaelic. English is widely spoken throughout Scotland though you will find that Gaelic is the native language on some of Scotland’s islands.
Credit Cards & ATM’s: ATM machines are widespread in Scotland and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one, even in small towns or on small islands.
Plugs: In Scotland the power plugs and sockets are type G. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Scotland uses the same plugs as the rest of the United Kingdom.
Safety: Scotland is a very safe country to visit, and I’d consider it a great country to visit as a solo female traveller. As always, be sensible and check your local travel advisory before you go.
SCOTLAND ON A BUDGET
Accommodation in Scotland is not super cheap, but the standard of hostels is high, meaning they’re overall good value for money. We spent £332.42 for six nights (in Glasgow we stayed at my flat), working out at £55.38 per night or £27.69 each. Our budget was driven up slightly by accommodation on Lewis and Harris as there were no hostels and we had to opt for a Bed & Breakfast.
Our main transport cost in Scotland was the hire car, which cost £206.50 for the week. You could do this cheaper if you know how to drive a manual. We spent £113.21 on fuel in five days. If you’re planning on visiting the islands factor in more for ferry tickets.
Food in Scotland is not the cheapest. To keep costs down we varied between buying groceries and eating out. We spent roughly £40 per day on food, or £20 each. To give you an idea, a cheap pub meal might cost around £8-£10, or a meal at a nicer restaurant with a drink could cost around £20-£30.
We actually didn’t spend any money on attractions in Scotland. A) Because Coronavirus was just taking off and a lot of museums and tourist attractions were closed. B) But also because a lot of attractions in Scotland are free. Museums and art galleries in Glasgow and Edinburgh are free, and Scotland’s biggest attraction (it’s outdoors) will also cost you nothing. Factor in spending money on things like castle entrances or a cruise around Loch Ness.
Your daily budget will vary a lot on your travel style. But if you plan on hiring a car, sleeping mostly in hostel dorms, and eating out some of the time I’d suggest £60-£80 per day.
7-Day Scotland Itinerary: The Scotland Road Trip That Almost Happened
- Glasgow: 1 Night
- Fort William: 1 Night
- Isle of Skye: 2 Nights
- Isle of Lewis and Harris: 2 Nights
- Inverness: 1 Night
Glasgow: 1 Night
Ok, I’m a little biased. We started our 7-day Scotland road trip in Glasgow because, well, I lived there. We could stay in my flat for free, and that made sense.
But practicalities aside, I also wanted to show my sister the Glasgow I’d gotten to know pretty well, and the Glasgow I’d fallen for.
Glasgow often doesn’t get as much love as Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. But that’s a shame, because Glasgow has SO much to offer. Into free museums or art galleries? Check out Kelvingrove Art Gallery, or head into the city centre to check out the Gallery of Modern Art.
Into green places? You’re in luck, because Glasgow is literally known as ‘the Dear Green Place’. If it’s a nice day (admittedly a rare thing in Glasgow), you could join the locals and go taps aff in Kelvingrove Park, or head to Pollok Country Park for the chance to spot a highland coo.
Eat: Glasgow is the foodie capital of Scotland, and no matter you’re into, you’re sure to find something to love. Fancy a curry? Head to Mother India, rumoured to be the oldest Indian restaurant in Britain. Vegan? The Hug and Pint or The 78 are great vegan haunts. I have so many favourite Glasgow restaurants, but some of my top choices include Hanoi Bike Shop, Paesano and Max’s Bar.
Fort William: 1 Night
A Scotland road trip is all about the stops, and trust me, Scotland has a lot of epic places you’ll want to stop off at.
After leaving Glasgow the first stop on our 7-day Scotland itinerary was Fort William. Honestly, I’d heard from friends that Fort William itself was a bit meh, so we intended to not spend much time in the town itself. And really, there’s enough to do between Glasgow and Fort William that we had a full day planned already.
If it’s a nice day consider doing a hike in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. There are plenty of lovely hill walks in the region, and my favourite short walk is Conic Hill (near Balmaha). Looking for something a little more challenging? You could try and bag Scotland’s most southerly Munro, Ben Lomond.
Even if the weather isn’t on your side don’t miss the chance to stop in Loch Lomond’s prettiest village, Luss. Complete with picturesque cottages and trailing flowers, Luss is the perfect place to break up the drive and stop for lunch.
I’ve never been a fan of driving for the sake of driving. But a road trip through Scotland will make you fall in love with the journey.
One of the best stretches of our Scotland road trip was driving through Glencoe. Located at the beginning of the Scottish Highlands, the road through Glencoe takes you through the heart of an ancient volcano. You’ll spy towering mountains coated in snow and deep valleys, and if you’re like me, you’ll be stopping every 5 minutes to take a photo.
For us, Glenfinnan Viaduct was one of the main draws of visiting Fort William. (It’s about half an hour away from the town). Never heard of it? What if I say the Harry Potter bridge? Ah, now you’re following.
Glenfinnan Viaduct is, yes, the famous Harry Potter bridge. Even if you’re not a fan of the movies (we can’t be friends), the bridge is still a stunning bridge in a stunning spot. It’s only a few minutes walk from the Glenfinnan Monument and Visitor Centre, and a visit here should be on every Scotland bucket list.
The Jacobite steam train runs along the viaduct during summer (and you can ride it!), and the rest of the year there are frequent regular trains. Though they aren’t quite as impressive.
Stay: We stayed at Fort William Backpackers and it definitely set the bar for hostels in Scotland. The 8-bed female dorm we stayed in was clean and modern, and the hostel as a whole was friendly with great backpacker vibes. We spent £21 each for a bed in the dorm.
Isle of Skye: 2 Nights
Let me just start by saying one day is definitely not enough time on the Isle of Skye. Skye is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been, and I don’t think a week here would be long enough.
Still, if you’re looking to squeeze as much into your 7-day Scotland itinerary as possible, you’ll still get a great taste of what Skye has to offer. But stay for 2 nights at the absolute minimum.
There are two main ways to get to the Isle of Skye. You can either drive to Kyle of Lochalsh and take the Skye Bridge, or catch the ferry to Mallaig.
I recommend taking the Skye Bridge, and stopping on the way to visit Eilean Donan Castle. This stunning 13th century castle is situated on a small tidal island, and trust me when I say it’s one of the best castles I’ve ever seen.
Top Things To Do on The Isle of Skye
We based ourselves in Skye’s largest town, Portree, as it’s roughly near the middle of the island and made the most sense for getting around. And though we only had one day in Skye, we managed to pack a lot into our day.
Into fairies and all things magic? Make sure to check out the Fairy Pools and the Fairy Glen. Want to see some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery? Head to Neist Point Lighthouse, Coral Beach or the Old Man of Storr. Want to taste a wee dram or two? You could head to Talisker Distillery for a taste of Scotland’s famous whiskey.
There’s a lot to see and do on the stunning Isle of Skye, and I can guarantee you’ll be planning your trip back.
Stay: We stayed in Portree Independent Hostel, and we were the only ones there. Not because the hostel was awful (because coronavirus), but it was still a little creepy. Still, the hostel was clean, colourful and large, and in a great location in Portree. We paid £22 each for a bed in a 4-bed dorm.
Isle of Lewis and Harris: 2 Nights
Ok, a disclaimer. It was in Skye that the world went a little mad and I ended up booking my flights home. We decided we couldn’t go any further on our trip and though it was the right decision, I’ll forever regret that I never got to see the Isle of Lewis and Harris.
I mean, that just gives me an excuse to go back.
So while I didn’t get to go to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, I did get the following tips on what to see and do from a friend and colleague who grew up on Lewis. So hey, you know it’s legit.
Getting to Lewis and Harris
We planned to catch a ferry from Uig (on Skye) to Tarbert, a town towards the bottom of Harris. We were then going to catch a ferry back from Stornoway to Ullapool.
For more information on how to get to Lewis and Harris check out the official Calmac website.
Top Things To Do on Lewis and Harris
While on Lewis make sure to check out the part of the island called ‘The West Side’. This area of Lewis dates back to the Vikings and Bronze Age, and some of the must-see sites are the Calanais Stones, Gearranan Blackhouse Village and The Arnol Blackhouse.
For some of the most beautiful beaches in the world make sure to check out Eoropie Beach (Lewis) or Luskintyre Beach (Harris). Other sites you should check out in Lewis are the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, an ancient Clan fortress called Dun Eisdean in ness, and Lews Castle.
Eat: My Lewis-born Scottish friend recommends The Lewis Smokehouse, The Boatshed Restaurant and The Blue Lobster – all in Stornoway. If you’re looking to pack a picnic lunch head to The Blackhouse Bakery for a selection of lovely fresh bread and cakes.
Inverness: 1 Night
The last stop on our 7-day Scotland itinerary was supposed to be Inverness, the heart of the Scottish Highlands. Luckily for me, I’d already spent a few days exploring Inverness, so having to cut Inverness from our trip wasn’t as devastating (for me).
So though I didn’t make it to Inverness on this trip, I can still (with some authority) recommend the top things to see and do if you only have a day.
Into history? Cawdor Castle, famously associated with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is an impressive castle that’s still occupied today. Are you an Outlander fan? Head to Culloden Moor and Clava Cairns for the chance to spot Jamie Fraser. Though I actually saw him at my gym in Glasgow* (*giving you another reason to check out Scotland’s most underrated city).
Of course, you can’t visit Inverness without heading to Loch Ness to spy Scotland’s famous water monster. A tour with Loch Ness by Jacobite is the perfect way to see the lake if you’re short on time.
Read More: Top 10 Things To Do in Inverness
Other Places to Visit in Scotland If You Have More Than One Week
Ah, excuse me, you might be thinking. Where’s Edinburgh on this epic 7-day Scotland itinerary?
Ok, you should totally include Edinburgh in your visit to Scotland. I didn’t include it here as we had intended to do Edinburgh as a day trip from Glasgow after our road trip, and well, that didn’t happen. Still, Edinburgh is worth at least a day to explore, and I guess you could cut Glasgow out to visit Edinburgh (or just add an extra day).
In Edinburgh make sure to check out Edinburgh Castle, walk the Royal Mile and climb up Calton Hill for the perfect Edinburgh sunset spot.
Scotland is one of my favourite countries in the world. A year living here wasn’t enough to see it all, and even Glasgow’s notoriously grim winter didn’t dampen my love of Scotland. Although ok, admittedly the Vitamin D depression was a real thing.
A week in Scotland isn’t long enough to see and do everything, but it is the perfect amount of time to get a taste of what Scotland has to offer. By using this 7-day Scotland itinerary as a jumping off point you’ll get to see the best of what Scotland has to offer, from it’s quirky cities to the raw beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
I can guarantee I’ll be back one day, and I’m pretty sure you will be too. Go on, get exploring.