Tips for a Scotland vacation
January 10, 2018 12:24 PM   Subscribe

What should we visit while in Scotland for 8 days in mid-September.

We are going to spend 8 days in Scotland in mid-September. We fly in to Edinburgh for two days and then the itinerary is open. We are flying out of Edinburgh. Looking for ideas / tips on traveling there.

We are drawn to the Highlands (Mull, Iona, Skye) but have heard that some places like Skye are getting overrun with tourists. We like to hike and see nature and a castle or two would be nice. Places with long lines and hoards of tourists, we nae like.

So what should we see in Edinburgh, where in the Highlands should we visit and what other places should we consider? We are open to renting a car for an out-of-the-way adventure.
posted by jabo to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If you're interested in hiring a private tour guide, Will from Iconic Tours is AMAZING. He'll customize the tour to your tastes and drive you all over the place. He knows when and how to avoid the crowds (when it's possible, of course) and which places are worth going and which are missable. I cannot recommend him highly enough -- he drove us through the Highlands for 5 days, and we saw some amazing things, but he was the highlight of the trip.
posted by natabat at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

In mid-Sept there are far fewer tourists around because it's no longer school holidays so you'll probably be alright wherever you go.

I would say must sees are Edinburgh, Skye and parts of the Highlands. Iona Mull and Skye are not the Highlands, they're the Islands, the inner Hebrides to be exact. I'd also recommend Islay (also inner Hebrides) during this time because of the jazz festival: it's such a brilliant event with gigs in people's houses, pubs, distilleries and more. It makes the island busier of course but it can never really be a busy place. A great way to see and be involved in the life of a Scottish island. Mull and Iona have the edge on it at other times of year though.

Also amazing are the outer Hebrides and Sutherland/the Cairngorms.
posted by stevedawg at 2:06 PM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

You really should include Glasgow in your itinerary. It is only an hour away by train from Edinburgh, but has a completely different vibe. It is a great center for architecture, if that is your thing (it's mine).

Stirling Castle is not far from Edinburgh and pretty much on your way if you are heading north from Edinburgh (or you can do it as a half-day trip). Less touristy than Edinburgh Castle at any time of the year...I frankly think it is the better castle experience.

Or, consider taking the West Highland Line (train) from Glasgow to is one of the great scenic railway journeys and takes you over the Glenfinnan Viaduct (most famously seen in the Harry Potter movies) and Rannoch Moor. If you want to stop along the way for some hiking, the line meets up with the West Highland Way at several points, like Crianlarich, or you can hike Ben Nevis from Fort William. If you want to continue to Skye, there's a ferry from Mallaig.
posted by Preserver at 2:35 PM on January 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

'The Road To The Isles' between Fort William and Mallaig is a must. You will pass some important historical stuff (Glenfinnan Monument and viaduct - important for Bonnie Prince Charlie and Harry Potter reasons), the lovely fishing village of Arisaig, and several beautiful stretches of isolated-ish sandy beaches. In Mallaig, there is a crossing to Skye.

Fort William is a small town that is used by many as a base for mountain-based sports stuff, so there are winter sports shops and cafes etc, but even though September is out of season for the skiing stuff, you will be able to get the cable car up to the base of the slopes - there's a cafe at the top but really you make the journey for the views, and you might be able to follow mountain bikers and motor cross guys on the way down. Last time I was there I was above these two guys doing incredible tricks and stuff all the way down - it was fantastic. :)

Other than that, I absolutely second Edinburgh, and in early Sept you will have escaped all the big festival crowds too - much nicer.
posted by churlishmeg at 3:40 PM on January 10, 2018

I had a magnificent itinerary in Scotland a few years ago, which I offer for your consideration:

While in Edinburgh (one of my favorite places on Earth) I took a day trip to Gleneagles and visited Phoenix Falconry Center there, which may or may not be your jam but was fully my jam and an absolutely mind-blowing experience in stupid gorgeous surroundings.

Then I went to Stirling for a couple days. Stirling Castle is really nifty and the surroundings are, again, breathtaking, but I found the town of Stirling itself to be a little odd. That may have been just because I didn't have a car so was limited to what I could see on foot.

After that I swung back down to Glasgow and caught the West Highland line not to Mallaig but to Oban (there's a spur). Oban is amazeballs. While there, I visited the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary, and did a small boat tour leaving from nearby Easdale (Seafari Adventures). There's also a very fine distillery in Oban and lots of great restaurants and B&Bs. If I'd had more time, I would have taken one of the ferries that leaves from Oban to the Isles. As it was, I went back to Glasgow to continue my trip into the North of England.

When I fantasize now about my next trip to Scotland (which won't be for a few years due to child-having) I realize I really just want to do the exact same trip all over again and have to force myself to think of other itineraries.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by vrakatar at 8:10 PM on January 10, 2018

If you like hiking, the Great Glenn Way from Fort William to Inverness is very nice. You will be there in the off season (I think) so there will be no shortages of BnB to stay at. Or you can book with one of the agencies that take care of that. You can also just do the part from Fort Augustus for a shorter hike.
posted by garbanzilla at 10:42 AM on January 11, 2018

Inverewe. 2,100 acres of gardens created by one man carrying soil in a basket on his back. Same latitude as Juneau, Alaska, and yet there is a whole section of tropical plants (thank you Gulf Stream). Treat yourself to homemade cullen skink (smoked halibut soup) in the cafe.

Plockton, not far from Inverewe. Towering palms (that's right) on the shore of a nearby loch.

Moniack Castle, closer to Inverness. A winery that produces/sells a lovely white wine made from the sap of the silver birch; also a brambleberry wine.

The royal yacht Britannia (portrayed in Season 2 of The Crown) - is permanently berthed at Ocean Terminal in Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh. Ocean Terminal also offers many shops and restaurants.
posted by John Borrowman at 2:03 PM on January 11, 2018

If you like looking at castles, how about staying in a close approximation of one? We ended up doing a last minute journey to the Outer Hebrides while on a trip to see friends and stayed at the Western Isles Hotel in Tobermory, Mull. It's a historical place sitting on a hill above the main thoroughfare, which offers stunning views of either side of the island, depending on what particular part of the manor house you're in. I'm a huge Downton Abbey fan and this place made me think of what the Crawley's Hebrides house would look like, if they'd had one. They also serve a great breakfast in a little dining room that overlooks one of the Mull bays.
posted by arishaun at 6:52 PM on January 11, 2018

Barra, where the airport is the beach and flights are scheduled according to the tides.

Getting off the beaten path, maybe down to Crinan, out to Dunottar Castle, Kirriemuir's camera obscura, go see the Kelpies. It might be curling season by then, so maybe go see a local match.

Arbroath. MeMail me if you want more ideas or specific places. There are so many.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 2:56 PM on January 12, 2018

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