Recommendations for spending 10 days in Scotland this summer
March 16, 2015 5:07 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning a two-week trip to Scotland in early July. Our base will be Edinburgh but we plan a couple of nights in the Lake District (a family link) and then have 10 or so days in Scotland. Interested in hearing from people who have been there recently, what you have done (and avoided). Any advice would be welcome.

Some ideas we have (comments on any of them are welcome) are :
A couple of days in Edinburgh. Hear the Royal Mile is worthwhile but mixed opinions on the royal homes (we are Canadian but not fervent monarchists). We are not there for the Fringe Festival or the Tattoo in August, which will reduce the number of tourists but also less to do. Also we have heard that the drive from Edinburgh east along the coast to St. Andrews is worth a day. We would like to golf one day if possible (not St. Andrews) so ideas for that welcome as well.
Three days between Fort William and Inverness. We are keen but not experienced cyclists who have gone from planning to bike around Loch Ness to biking from Fort William to Inverness to doing day bike trips on the Great Glen Way. Comments on the state of the Great Glen Way (we prefer to avoid biking on narrow country roads) and if day bike trips (out and back some distance) are worthwhile.
A day at Culzean Castle. I saw it as a young teenager (a hundred years ago) and have never forgotten it. I am wondering if any of you have seen it recently and whether it is worth a visit. We don’t feel the need to see every castle but would Stirling Castle be a better choice?
A visit to one of the islands (most likely Skye but open to ideas)
At least one day in Glasgow (visiting the daughter of family friends but time to look around)
Any other general suggestions (and things to avoid). Culloden? We like to walk and bike and are happy to avoid the bright lights a little. Interested in the history but don’t feel the need to see every castle or church. We are renting a house in Edinburgh for 10 days but only planning to stay there for 5 or so and use it as a base for other, shorter trips.
We know the weather is unpredictable but are heading from there to Portugal for 2 weeks to get our vitamin D.
posted by RafikiGuy to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Many years ago I flew into Glasgow, rested, rented a car, drove halfway up the left side of Loch Ness, stayed near that big mountain, drove up to the top, stayed at Fort William, then drove down the otherside stopping at Pitlochry and the tiny distillery there, then back to Glasgow for a few nights. Had a blast, took about a week, maybe 9 days.

Culloden is spooky pretty. I hope you like single malts! Have fun!
posted by vrakatar at 6:06 PM on March 16, 2015


Oh man. Skye was amazing. I would recommend spending at least 1 night on the island, give yourself plenty of time to do the drive, and just pull over whenever you feel like it and walk around for a bit. Driving though the highlands is perfect for that.

Also: go to some distillaries! Tours (and sampling afterward!) are fun. Talisker on Skye is a good one if you want to combine the two. Otherwise, go visit the distilleries around Spey.

(and...here is a spectacular video filmed on Skye. Enjoy!)
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Almost forgot! Dunnotar Castle was far and away my favorite castle that I saw. I went near dusk and it was magical. FYI it's in ruins (which I generally preferred to the still-standing castles).
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:12 PM on March 16, 2015


Go to the Orkney Islands. Visit Yasnaby
posted by misformiche at 6:36 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


We visited Scotland in 2013. The West Highlands Museum is very worthwhile if you are interested in Jacobite history (but they aren't just about the Jacobites).

We spent some time at Stirling Castle (but I haven't been to Culzean so I can't compare). They have a cool weaving studio where they are working on tapestries similar to the Unicorn Tapestries. The cemetery at Stirling Castle had some cool headstones if that is something that interests you.

If you are planning on visiting a distillery and want a tour, check their website to see if they require reservations. We wanted to visit Glenmorangie where reservations were "recommended". We just decided to try it and were turned away because all the afternoon spots were filled due to a tour coming in later.

My absolute must-see was Doune Castle (about an hour north of Ediburgh). It's where a good deal of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed (Castle Anthrax, Swamp Castle, Castle Lombard and Camelot) as well as scenes from Game of Thrones (Winterfell) and Outlander. Terry Jones recorded the delightful audioguide with history and bits of filming information mixed in.

Have a great trip. We can't wait to go back!
posted by Beti at 6:43 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Since you like biking, you should definitely check out Aviemore. It is the main town in the Cairngorms National Park so there's a lot of outdoor stuff available, including biking. While you're there I highly recommend Leault Working Sheepdogs and the Cairngorm Reindeer Center. The sheepdogs, in particular, are amazing.

Also, if you're going to go from Inverness or Aviemore to the east coast, don't bother taking the A96. Its a pretty uninteresting trip. Instead take the A939 (aka The Lecht Road) from Grantown-On-Spey to Ballater and then head to the coast from there. Its a fantastic ride.
posted by Joe Schlabotnik at 7:01 PM on March 16, 2015


My favorite sight in Scotland is the Falkirk Wheel, which is about midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The museum is interesting, but the best part is riding the boat up the wheel, down the canal a little way, and then back. If you can get seats up at the very front of the boat you get an amazing view on the way back down. It would be a nice day trip by bike, as you can ride along the canal paths from Edinburgh.
posted by katemonster at 7:09 PM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would suggest the Outer Hebrides for cycling. I had a terrific vacation there a few years ago and the terrain was gentle with few motorists about.

I also like the suggestion for Orkney. If you head out that way, take the ferry to the Shetlands, just a hop skip away ( a few hours by boat ).
posted by seawallrunner at 9:53 PM on March 16, 2015


(Edinburgh resident here.) Golf is very non-elitist in Scotland and most (all?) of the major courses accept day visitors. Choose which courses you would like to play and get in touch to see what arrangements have to be made. Edinburgh has 7 golf courses, if the weather is dry the Braid Hills course gives you nice views of the town and costs about £25 for a round.

Scotland can be wet, even in July, being prepared makes the the difference between a nice day out and damp misery. Tiso on Rose St, Edinburgh can sell you any clothing you don't have, think layers. Generic tourist advice: some parts of the Highlands are prone to midges which can - and if you are attractive to them, will - eat you alive. Get advice about insect repellants if you're heading that way.
posted by epo at 3:34 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I would suggest the Outer Hebrides for cycling. I had a terrific vacation there a few years ago and the terrain was gentle with few motorists about. I also like the suggestion for Orkney. If you head out that way, take the ferry to the Shetlands, just a hop skip away ( a few hours by boat ).

I'd have to gently disagree here - if your itinerary involves mainly Central Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh and Fife, and you have ten days, Shetland is probably the worst place you could go - it's like having a few days in London and going for a side excursion to Brittany. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing place, but it's just too far out to make it worthwhile on this particular trip. Even Skye (again, one of the most beautiful places on earth) is kind of pushing it. Again, the Outer Hebrides, kind of far. (It'll take you a full day to get from Glasgow to Lochboisdale on South Uist, for instance, and by that I mean an entire day of solid travel, no fun stuff!)

Remember that distances in the Highlands and Islands aren't like distances elsewhere in Britain - a lot of the roads are far slower than you'll be used to, especially at peak tourist season. The A82 from Glasgow, up the side of Loch Lomond and then to Crianlarich and Tyndrum (and then the Highlands) is a particular pig of a road, with poorly driven caravans, motorhomes, huge tour coaches and lorries all jostling for space on a twisty road (especially between Tarbert and Crianlarich).

My biggest piece of advice for anyone travelling North is not to try and do/see too much because it can turn your relaxing holiday into a non-stop dash between places that didn't seem very far apart on the map. Pick a few places you want to see, within a day's slow drive of one another, and stick to that itinerary - don't try and do Fife, Skye, Orkney, etc etc all in one 10-day trip because you'll be left with few memories other than looking at the back end of a motorhome for hours.

If I was going to go and see Culzean Castle (in Ayrshire) specifically, something I might do to get a little flavour of the West Coast is to then head back up the Ayrshire coast, take the Ardrossan to Campbeltown ferry, stay in Campbeltown and spend some time exploring Kintyre on my way back to Glasgow. It's less visited than a lot of areas of Scotland but it's absolutely beautiful, and you don't have the long trek up into the Highlands from the Central Belt, it's very much off the tourist drags. If you wanted a real island, then depending on time you could then head from Kennacraig (at the top end of Kintyre) across to Islay. That's just one idea - if I think of any more I'll pop back in!

I love the Highlands, but looking at your 10-day itinerary and the fact that you've got various places to be and people to see around the Central Belt, I think trying to squeeze in a Highland excursion might be a little too much - so Kintyre might be a nice alternative. :)
posted by winterhill at 5:38 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I visited Culzean last April and thought it was spectacular. I haven't seen Stirling, but there's no doubt it has a much longer and more important history - what you see at Culzean is mostly the 18th century neo-classical remodelling.

You say you're starting in the Lake District: in that case you could get to Culzean by taking the road from Carlisle through the Galloway Forest Park, which is a surprisingly wild, lonely and beautiful area. If you haven't been to Hadrian's Wall, then going from Carlisle to Hadrian's Wall, then taking the road past Hermitage Castle and up to Edinburgh through the Borders would fit in more on your way. The trips I've made in the last few years to Scotland have all been arriving from the Belfast ferry at Cairnryan in Galloway, so I've mostly been in Ayrshire, Galloway, Dumfries and the Borders. I found the great Border abbeys of Melrose, Jedburgh, Dryburgh and (to a lesser extent) Kelso all well worth a visit. Likewise Rosslyn chapel, which is very easy to get to from Edinburgh.

Looking at your list, I'm another who would think you'd be better to leave the Highlands for another trip, and take this trip to see what you can between the Lake District and St. Andrew's.
posted by Azara at 6:37 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


By far my favorite tourist parts of visiting Edinburgh and taking a four days to drive around were the parts in the highlands and Skye. The Royal Mile is worth a quick trip to the guys at Cadenhead for whisky and a poke up and down a few Closes, but the residences and art museums weren't necessarily worth the time. The drive up to St Andrew's was nice, but if I went back I'd head for Pitlochry and the highlands beyond (and the Western Isles).
posted by ldthomps at 9:23 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


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