Scotland advice
January 23, 2023 8:36 PM   Subscribe

One week in Scotland in early May - advice on proposed itinerary and activity and food suggestions?

Family of 3 American adults doing a one week visit to Scotland* ( Flying into and out of Edinburgh.) I've now read the previous asks and have taken copious notes. I would love any tips you have anyhow on places to see things to do (see below) but am also trying to get a read on my overall itinerary (see further below).

- The impetus for the trip involves a visit to my father's childhood home in the Borders (Kelso). Will also visit a relative in that region. So the Borders is a day I think.
- I'm not feeling super ambitious. I value depth over breadth when exploring a new place. Prefer a ramble to a scramble, and there's a range in mobility in our group.
- But I do love outdoors and so building in some walking/hiking/biking adventures for me is good.
- Looking for delicious food (a couple pescatarians in the group but a meat eater too). Would love to hear your personal favorite places in Edinburgh or elsewhere.
- Specific lodging suggestions welcome. IN the US we tend to do VRBO. Open to B&Bs and would enjoy. We are queer and not very anxious about homophobia but that can be a reality sooo, just putting that out there.
- We enjoy art, music, cultural stuff.
- We would enjoy seeing a range of historic sites including standing stones, castles, religious, or more modern political and social movement history.

So here's my idea with hopes of not feeling rushed but getting to see a few things - what do you think/what would you suggest re this general idea for an itinerary:
Spend a few days in Edinburgh, maybe rent a car and drive to the Borders for a day trip.
Then keep the car OR take train to Glasgow for.. a couple days?
Ferry to Arran (is this more of a day-trip thing and return to Glasgow for the night? Or spend a night on Arran and ramble around some more there the next day?)
Then up to Oban - maybe use that as a base for a night and ramble around to nearby castles and lochs
I'm tempted to go further North and make our way to the outer Hebrides but that sounds like more of a big project - don't have a sense of how long I would budget to make that work but very intrigued by the layers of history on Lewis, and my wife loves not sure
Then back to Edinburgh.

I have started a list of more specific places to go that includes various museums, theaters etc but welcome suggestions if you have favorite spots.

Suggestions ideas thoughts? Thank you!!

*After Scotland, my wife and I are continuing on to Barcelona - thanks for your previous advice! but this question is just about Scotland.
posted by latkes to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Gamba in Glasgow has incredible seafood, definitely make reservations.

In Edinburgh, I thought the Surgeons' Hall Museum was really cool if you're into that sort of thing. We had a good dinner at Montieths. I also took a free walking tour there that was legit fantastic, I wish I knew the name but groups are all over the Royal Mile and you might get a recommendation here or when you get there.
posted by jameaterblues at 9:47 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Make sure you see the Kelpies between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Stirling Castle is worth a visit, as is the Wallace Tower. Glasgow is delightful, I prefer it to Edinburgh - Glasgow is more gritty and the people are superb. Lots of art and architecture there.

Oban is a delight. See Glencoe nearby - absolutely worth the detour, on the way to Oban. Visit the Oban distillery while there.

Re Outer Hebrides - the ferry from Oban to Batra takes several hours. Driving up to Lewis (standing stones etc) will take several hours from Barra and two more ferries.

The alternative is to drive from Glasgow to Ullapool and ferry from there to Stornoway (Lewis). Glencoe is on the way. You would miss Oban, but Loch Ness and other lochs are on the way.

All this to say, one week in Scotland is rushed. Take two. Or three. It’s a small country, yes, but the roads are narrow and not made for speed. It takes time to get from point A to point B there. So take your time, enjoy the scenery and the people. And the food. Recommend the scallops in the outer Hebrides- the best I’ve eaten anywhere.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:05 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't go to both Oban and Arran, choose one (Arran) and on the other day drive to Fort William. The drive to Fort William from Glasgow will take you through Glencoe - some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe. If you don't have the car you can take the Glasgow to Fort William train. Fort William is a small place with not a lot in it but it's worth doing a road trip there and back and just grabbing lunch. Stirling, St. Andrews, Culross and Loch Lomond are all beautiful and all within driving distance of Glasgow. Central Scotland is small.

Whatever you do don't leave Scotland without seeing Glencoe.
posted by mani at 11:11 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

If you only have got a week in Scotland, I'd advise against going to the Outer Hebrides. The ferry rides are quite long, and the roads on the islands are narrow, so it takes a while to get to Callanish and so on. If you value depth over breadth, imho it's much better to spend the time on the mainland or maybe go to the Isle of Skye and stop by Eilean Donan Castle on the way.
posted by amf at 12:04 AM on January 24

- We enjoy art, music, cultural stuff.
Glasgow? Burrell Collection!
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:09 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

3 days in Edinburgh (New Town, Old Town, Arthur's seat and/or Leith)
1 day to Kelso/Borders as a day trip, rent a car

Then either
1 day to Stirling Castle on the way to say Loch Lomond/The Trossachs for 2 days by car or
3 days west of Glasgow but not as far as the outer hebrides by car or
3 days on the West Highland line, staying in a combination of Fort William and Mallaig (by train).

That's a good week.
posted by plonkee at 1:34 AM on January 24

You say that you prefer depth to breadth, but you're also proposing to do two cities and three potential multi-day trips in a single week!

I'd cut back. As you're going to Kelso I'd (regretfully) drop Glasgow. Spend a few days in Edinburgh, see some of the museums and galleries, spend a couple of days round New Town, Stockbridge and the Botanics, Leith and the neighbourhoods around the Meadows, do (mobility allowing) Arthur's Seat and Calton Hill.

Spend a quiet afternoon in a pub (try the Canny Man's, Teuchter's or Cloisters). For food, consider Six By Nico, Harajuku Kitchen, Bread Meats Bread, L'Escargot Bleu, Pizzeria 1926, Locanda De Gusti. If you want to push the boat out have a look at Fhior and Timberyard.

There's lots of history up and down the Royal Mile, but that's also kilts-and-shortbread tourism central. If you like castles, Edinburgh Castle isn't very… castle-y, but there's Craigmillar Castle to the south. If you want to stretch your legs head to the Pentlands for some gentle hiking.

Do your trip to Kelso. Perhaps do one of Arran or Oban and plan to stay overnight. I'd probably recommend Oban, as you're not going to be able to spend much time in either, and Oban's about the trip as much as anything else. (Definitely do the detour through Glencoe, and take the Queensferry Crossing as well for spectacular views of the Firth of Forth.)

Make plans to come back some other time to see Glasgow, the Cairngorms and Skye.
posted by dudekiller at 1:38 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

For hiking and biking without too much forward planning, either going out to the Pentland Hills from Edinburgh or going up Goat Fell on Arran are good easy to plan hikes. Ben Lomond is also a straightforward walk with potentially fantastic views. Or potentially just most and clouds, but still rewarding.

And for biking, if moderate (or serious) mountain biking is your thing, then Glentress in the borders is a fantastic set of forest and hill trails with easy bike hire and parking there for a day or half day visit. It’s west of Kelso and south of Edinburgh.
posted by ambrosen at 1:45 AM on January 24

You could very easily spend a week entirely in Edinburgh, in the Borders, in Glasgow, or in any combination of those three.

BUT - because several other people have said Glencoe, and because you’re a little bit island-curious, and because I genuinely love to think up & share a Scotland itinerary, I’ll throw in a three-night side trip in the west…

Day one: start from Edinburgh in your hire car. Drive via Callander, Crianlarich and Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe. This is a beautiful drive through woodland, along lochsides and over a huge boggy intimidating moor (and I mean that in a nice way) to pretty much the most spectacular, spine-tinglingly historic glen in the west of Scotland. It’s a three hour drive from Edinburgh. Stay at the Clachaig Inn, which is half a mile off the main road - turn right towards the bottom of the glen to find it. You can also stop off at the Glencoe visitor centre, which is a mile or so further down the glen after the turn to the Clachaig - you can learn about the history, eat at the cafe, and try out the gentle but rewarding walks in the woodland above the centre.

Day two: drive north from Glencoe for about 20mins until you get to Corran Ferry, then take a very short ferry ride over to Ardgour in Ardnamurchan. This feels like an island but it’s actually a peninsula - you’re arriving by ferry to avoid a huge detour to the north. Head for Strontian (fun fact: it’s the only place in Scotland that inspired the name of a chemical element!), and take a walk in the oak woods just to the north - a small fragment of the original temperate rainforest that was all over the west coast of the British Isles many thousands of years ago. There’s a nice cafe on your way into the woods, for lunch before or after your walk. Then, keep going west along an increasingly twisty, narrow but picturesque road until you reach Kilchoan, where (maybe after visiting the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point if you have time?) you can get another ferry over to Tobermory, which is on the island of Mull. Stay here for night two - I recommend the Mishnish Hotel.

Day three: exploring Mull. There’s lots to see in Tobermory, which is a cute fishing port that’s now very popular with sailing people. Very pretty buildings along the quayside, all painted in different colours. There’s a distillery where you can take a tour, if that’s your thing. But the rest of the island is wild & beautiful in that Hebridean way. There are a few small, hidden beaches if it’s sunny. If you’re feeling quite adventurous, you can even drive down to the south-western tip of Mull and take another short ferry ride to Iona, which is a small island with a very calm, peaceful & spiritual vibe - home of the earliest missionaries to arrive in Scotland from Ireland, & still the site of a Christian community. You’ll aim to finish day three in Craignure, at the south-east of Mull, from where you take the boat back to the mainland. You’re arriving in Oban at the end of day three - so from here you can pick up the plans you had already considered. Stay over in Oban, or head back south towards Glasgow if that’s your next stop.

You’re travelling at the perfect time of year - May is not yet peak season, so everywhere is less busy - and it’s too early for midges, which are otherwise an annoying consideration in the west - and May / June is usually the nicest part of the short Scottish summer.

You’ll have a wonderful time no matter what you do - you could have the trip of a lifetime if you never left Edinburgh. But… the rest is out there too. Enjoy!
posted by rd45 at 2:10 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]

Seconding rd45's itinerary here: lots of natural beauty and variety without having to go too far. It involves some great roads - but would work best if you have somebody who is happy driving on the left. If you could manage even a day or two more for the trip - that would pay off - for example you could go to somewhere like Lunga on a day trip from Mull.

It would also be possible to do an itinerary using only public transport (there are great train routes and buses or ferries go must places where trains don't). I would avoid further flung places like Orkney/Sheltand or the Outer Hebrides given your time limit.

A couple of fairly expensive but one off experiences in Edinburgh? Perhaps a meal in Aizle and a kilt from 21st Century Kilts.
posted by rongorongo at 5:11 AM on January 24

I'm not a fan of cramming in too many places when travelling, so personally I would divide the time 3/4 days (depending on fondness for city vs countryside), between Edinburgh and the Borders, if not in Kelso itself then in Selkirk or similar. Without knowing your budget, Sawday's is often a good source for pleasant bed and breakfasts or cottages of a very distinct type (I don't have experience of these specific places, I just searched for examples near Kelso, with countryside walks nearby and accommodating 3 adults).
posted by tavegyl at 5:24 AM on January 24

Random suggestions - definitely +1 to Glencoe if you get chance. You can take a little detour down the James Bond Skyfall road maybe. If you feel up to a fairly tough hike, you can do a circuit of Buachaille Etive Beag. There is some ascent but you can go right around without climbing up to the top.
In Edinburgh, we had an excellent meal at Michael's 14 Eyre Place. If you do decide to go to Oban, there is an excellent restaurant called Etive - very expensive tasting menu but it was really outstanding.
I agree with other posters you probably need to pick and choose a bit. My suggestion would be Edinburgh for a few days then drive across to Oban and stay there and do an island trip. Glencoe and some good walking areas are drivable from there.
posted by crocomancer at 6:16 AM on January 24

RD45's itinerary is excellent! I've had many a good night in the Clachaig Inn. If you're up at Strontian a 30 minute drive from there takes you to Castle Tioram which is an impressive ruin out on a wee spit of land in the sea. Don't miss Cafe Fish in Tobermory, in the old ferry terminal building. You often see guys coming in in waterproofs just off fishing boats delivering big bags of shellfish.

I regretfully agree with other posters saying that you're best not packing too much in and that maybe Glasgow could be omitted, but if you do end up driving back from Oban to Glasgow I recommend a stop at the Drovers Inn on the side of Loch Lomond for some awful taxidermy and nice old pub ambiance.

In Edinburgh for books and cultural stuff I always look into Lighthouse Books, the Fruitmarket Gallery (nice cafe and right beside the train station) and Summerhall (also nice cafe).

I've not had a chance to do one yet but the walking tours led by people who have experienced homelessness in Edinburgh (and Glasgow too) run by Invisible Cities sound really interesting.

Have a great time!
posted by Lluvia at 7:29 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Nthing rd45's itinerary. The man staffing the Glencoe visiting center had the thickest Scottish accent I've heard and the center itself felt like a throwback to an earlier time. And Glencoe is the perfect place to get your outdoorsy fix.

In Edinburgh, I found Gladstone's Land (a tenement museum) to be very worth it. We also liked popping into the Scottish Parliament building. It's modern and pretty, but mostly we liked it because we went when it wasn't in session and got to chat up the guard for the chamber/visitor balcony (even though it was reasonably busy with tourists) who had some good stories.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 1:57 PM on January 24

I was in Scotland for a week in November, and spent three of the seven days on the Isle of Skye. If I went back, I would probably spend the majority of my time there -- it's absolutely the most beautiful place I've ever been, even in the late fall. We flew into Glasgow, spent a night in Glencoe, and then took the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale, which I think only took 20-30 minutes at most.

My absolute favorite part of Skye was hiking The Quiraing. When I show people my (totally unprofessional iPhone) pictures, they audibly gasp.

FWIW, we totally packed too much into our trip (one day involved a 6-hour trip from Skye to the east coast!) and we still had an amazing time. I don't think you can really go wrong!
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 7:16 PM on January 24

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