Towns to use as a home base in Scotland?
April 25, 2013 9:56 AM   Subscribe

My family will be spending 10 days road tripping through Scotland in May. There will be four adults (myself, my husband, and my retired parents), and one 18 month old toddler. What towns will work best as bases for exploring surrounding areas?

We'd like to see a bit of everything (castles, highlands, whiskey distilleries, etc). I put together a very ambitious itinerary that has us sleeping in a new town every night. Yikes yikes yikes.

We'd much rather be able to spend a few nights in the same place. We'd like to see Edinburgh, the Highlands, the Isle of Syke, and the Glencoe area. We'd planned on spending our last two nights at a resort on the Isle of Arran, but we're flexible if someone has a better idea (seriously? a resort? someone has *got* to have a better idea).

Will Inverness make an OK base for all of the highlands and the Isle of Skye? Or is it too far away from some points? Is there a smaller or more central town that would be better? Should we consider splitting up that part of the trip? Fort William seems to be very central as well, but everyone I've spoken with has been "meh" about the food and surrounding area. Does it make an OK base, while we explore other areas? Do you have suggestions for B&Bs in those areas?

We are SO excited about this trip, but I'd really like to find a way to slow the pace down a little bit.

Tag along questions: What are your favorite parks and picnic spots? Outdoor markets? Tourist-y type things that won't require my toddler being quiet for longer than a few minutes at a time?
posted by asnowballschance to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would start with a couple of nights in Edinburgh. You certainly have a castle there, the city is great for wandering about and there is good food.

Then I would think about making a big loop up to Inverness (via Speyside - great for distilleries) - over to Skye, down to Oban and back through Glencoe to your starting point. If you like distilleries I would choose Islay over Aran.

Look for the book "Scotland the Best" - it has some great suggestions for both things you should not miss and those which are a little off the beaten track.

In terms of interesting places to stay the night on the way: Perth is one possibility on your way north. Inverness and Fort William are both OK - but the real charm of the highlands is in smaller places and on the islands.
posted by rongorongo at 11:07 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Restoration villages are great for this. Try Tobermory or Ullapool if you are going up the west coast.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2013

Inverness and Fort William are convenient hubs, but are 'meh' in terms of places in themselves (Fort William much more so than Inverness, I would actively avoid Fort William). I would agree that it's the wee places and the islands that make the Highlands interesting. But there isn't a central point that I can think of that is really convenient.

For reference, I've happily done a day trip from Inverness to Durness but I was familiar with some of the roads, and actively enjoy driving on single track roads. If you're not as comfortable with country roads, then you might find that your enjoyable day trip radius is reduced. Skye is further from Inverness than you'd think, as you tend to calculate the distance to the island itself, when all the things you want to do on the island involve quite a drive when you've got there (Dunvegan especially is a lot further away than you'd think).

If you do like country roads and are going from Inverness to Skye, take the A890 rather than going down Loch Ness. It's way more fun to drive, and has the only avalanche tunnel in the UK.

Rather than going to Arran, why not go to Orkney? Orkney's amazing, and none of the prehistoric sites apart from Maes Howe require any sort of concentration or quietness (Mine Howe is entirely unsuitable for toddlers, but I think that's the only site which is). This may not be helpful in terms of where you have to get back to though!
posted by Coobeastie at 2:05 PM on April 25, 2013

I would probably recommend a similar itinerary as rongorongo proposed. A couple of nights in Edinburgh (Castle, galleries, Museums etc), followed by a leisurely drive to Inverness. It's only around 3-4 hours drive, so you have time to stop off at some of the more scenic places like Dunkeld or Pitlochry and the viewing point at Queen's View, or you can take the long road and go via the Great Glen (Loch Ness, and Urquhart Castle). If you stay at Inverness for a night or two, you can easily check out the distilleries in Speyside (and even visit Balmoral, if you're into that kind of thing).
From Inverness, head over to Skye (perhaps dropping in on Plockton or Eilean Donan Castle on the way. From Skye you could head down to Tobermory on Mull. From there you can head via Oban through Glencoe and perhaps finish off at Stirling (I personally like Stirling Castle and the Falkirk Wheel). I hope you have a great time.
posted by Jakey at 5:49 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Scotland was amazing! We ended up spending three nights in Edinburgh, one night in Aberlour, then two each in Drumnadrochit (Loch Ness), Portree, and Stirling. The last three towns in particular were excellent bases to explore the surrounding regions.

Thanks for all of the excellent advice!
posted by asnowballschance at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2013

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