Where should we go in Scotland?
January 28, 2008 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Where should we go in Scotland?

My fiancee and I are going to Scotland in March. Neither of us has been before, and we'd like to make the most of our limited time and budget. We fly in and out of Edinburgh, and will be there for 6 full days.

Our current plan is: Day 1 in Edinburgh, Day 2 in Glasgow, Day 3 in Oban, Day 4 in another Highland town (Pitlochry? Dufftown? St. Andrews?), and Days 5 and 6 back in Edinburgh.

Is this a good/doable itinerary, or would you suggest an alternative order for our trip?

We're assuming that we must rent a car for days 3 and 4. Does anyone have recommendations for where or with whom to do this? Is there anything we should know about renting a car or driving in Scotland (other than that y'all use the other side of the road)?

Can anyone recommend a particular town for our Day 4? Given that we're spending only 2 days in the Highlands, are there suggestions for other towns we should visit instead of our planned destinations?

Any other suggestions for making the most of our trip--tourist traps to skip, restaurants/pubs to try, especially awesome castles? How about Bed and Breakfasts to stay in? Places that a mystery enthusiast would enjoy?

Anybody interested in a meetup sometime between the 16th and 21st of March?
posted by rbs to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (28 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Get a guidebook.

If it were me, I would spend an extra day out elsewhere rather than three days in Edinburgh.

St. Andrew's is not in the highlands.

You don't have to rent a car. In fact, the West Highland Line is particularly lovely. But if you do rent a car, remember that you need to specify an automatic transmission if you want one. You'll be able to see more with a car, and probably stay in better accommodation.

Dunnottar Castle is amazing. Edinburgh Castle is pretty good. Skip Stirling Castle.
posted by grouse at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2008

I loved Glasgow, so I would spend more time there. Check out Charles Rennie Mackintosh's buildings and designs...
posted by armacy at 12:57 PM on January 28, 2008

One idea: spend a day in Edinburgh, and a day in Glasgow, but skip Oban; instead get the train from Edinburgh to Inverness. In Inverness, hire a car (easily done, I think I used these guys and they met me at the railway station). Then leave Inverness swiftly, and the stunning, mindblowing Northern Highlands are yours! Spend days 3 and 4 exploring Skye (via the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh), or the area around Ullapool, and the Great Glen. Lochs, isolated castles, cute B&Bs and fancy country hotels. Back to Edinburgh and then spend your last day in Edinburgh or Glasgow according to how much you enjoyed your first day in each.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

While you are in Edinburgh take a walk in Holyrood Park (behind Holyrood Palace), and go up Arthur's Seat for a great view of the city. Deacon Brodie's pub on the Royal Mile is a good place for a drink.

In Glasgow, try the Ubiquitous Chip (Ashford Lane in the West End) for some authentic atmosphere.

I can confirm that the West Highland Line is a great experience.

I'd spend the 4th day somewhere on the West Coast - a visit to the isle of Skye would be worthwhile, or perhaps Ullapool. Saint Andrews is so so. Inverness is to be avoided. Visit a whisky distillery, but one is enough, after that they all look the same.
posted by Lezzles at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2008

[Yeah, on reflection, going back to Edinburgh to get up to Inverness only to leave it in a westerly direction is kind of silly. It depends how much you like driving: Edinburgh to Inverness is a fairly quick rail route, and you're in the far north pretty much right away. But driving from Oban is just as good. The point is, don't fixate on towns and cities. Get out, and get north.]
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:21 PM on January 28, 2008

Get a guide book, and make your B&B reservations for the first day or two in advance, given that it's March, the main tourist season shouldn't have started, and you can probably be just fine calling a few days ahead to each destination.

My wife and I spent almost two weeks in the islands (Skye & Orkney) and the Highlands. I
second game warden's comments, although I'll note that our access on Skye without a car was rather limited, and be mindful that some of the Hebrides (still under the sway of the Free Church) shuts down on Sundays - your guidebooks will have more info.
posted by canine epigram at 1:22 PM on January 28, 2008

I live in Glasgow and would love to have a meetup.

You want to spend more than one day in Glasgow. Glasgow and Edinburgh and smaller cities are the places where the majority of Scots live.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:31 PM on January 28, 2008

Oban is a waste of time (Pitlochry isn't great either) and as mentioned St Andrews isn't in the Highlands. St. Andrews is a very nice place and worth visiting, however. No need for 3 days in Edinburgh, so I would split your first day between Edinburgh and St Andrews as they aren't far from each other. Also, Inverness is not ideal for seeing the best of the Highlands when you have time contraints, it's far from Central Scotland.

If I were putting together an itinerary it would be -

Day 1 - Edinburgh and St Andrews
Day 2 - Glasgow (Shopping, Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, West End etc)
Day 3 - Stirling (Castle, Old Town, Wallace Monument)
Day 4 - Hire a car a drive to Fort William via Glencoe. You will pass through stunning scenery, Rannoch Moor, through Glencoe - it is a wonderful drive. At the end you can spend the night at Fort William, or drive back down again (bit of a slog that way.)
Day 5 - Drive back to Edinburgh in the morning.

If you want to see Skye you can drive up early morning and instead of stopping at Fort William continue on through Glenfinnan and onto Mallaig then on the ferry to Skye. You can either stay in Skye or go back down to Fort William and stay. There are plenty of hotels in Fort William. If you can't hire a car then you can take the train to Fort William too - the journey is equally spectacular. If you want any other info you can message me.
posted by fire&wings at 1:36 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oops. That should be Orkney and Shetland (though we did see Skye - lovely!)
posted by canine epigram at 1:37 PM on January 28, 2008

Get out, and get north.


Personally, I'd spend a couple of days in Edinburgh and the rest in the highlands. Islands are great, but you'd need to allot plenty of time for ferry travelling (or take a car onto Skye across the bridge). In my humble opinion, with the exception of Edinburgh, Scottish towns and cities are really just places to live and not worth going out of your way to see. Given a car and a week, I'd want to spend a night in places like the Kingshouse hotel, at the east of Glen Coe and the foot of the Buchaille.
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 1:39 PM on January 28, 2008

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh would reward more than one day but if intent on seeing gorgeous scenery then game warden to the events rhino is bang on the nose with the Skye suggestion (and quickly leaving Inverness). A B n B in Skye will suit very limited budget also.
posted by Gratishades at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2008

Seconding fire&wings - a drive through Glencoe is a must!

If you end up in Fort William, stay the night at Stobahn, a nice B&B run by this guy Georgio.

Also, stop by the Falkirk Wheel!

(Yer making me want to go drive around Scotland again...)
posted by o0dano0o at 2:08 PM on January 28, 2008

I was married in Scotland, and I just love the country.

Highlights for us were the aforementioned Ullapool, also Tobermory (for the small fishing-village feel) and Iona. Iona is primarily a small village and monastery, but it's such a beautiful and peaceful place, it's not to be missed.

I also highly recommend Rosslyn Chapel which is very easy to get too from Edinburgh by bus. It's such a quirky place, it's like walking into a puzzle box.

In Edinburgh, highlights were Mary King's Close, the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Centre, Camera Obscura, the Museum of Childhood as well as Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh castle, all of which are on the Royal Mile.

If you get a chance, the Penguin Parade at the Edinburgh Zoo was also very amusing.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:24 PM on January 28, 2008

Cripes, I forgot Staffa! Go to Staffa!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 2:31 PM on January 28, 2008

You're itinerary is pretty sound.

If I was to suggest an itinerary then I'd concentrate on the West coast.

Day 1: Edinburgh. Do tourist stuff.
Days 2: Glasgow. Do tourist stuff. Jumping a bus tour and hop on/off at stuff you like is actually a good way to see the city's best bits.
Day 3: On to either Skye or Oban:

a) Drive through Glen Coe up to Fort William and on to Skye. This is probably a 5 - 6 hours drive but the scenery is JAW DROPPING. If you take one thing from your visit it will be this drive. Mysterious, steeped in blood and history, old castles, mountains, real live haggis running wild, the works. If you want to break up the journey I can recommend The Limetree in Fort William for a stay or just food.

b) Drive to Oban and perhaps take ferries to explore the surrounding islands of Mull, Islay, Arran etc. Eat out at Eeusk or Waterfront.

Day 4: Spend time on Skye or Oban / Mull, Islay etc. Check out the Skye link above for stuff to do. There's loads and plenty good food to boot eg The 3 Chimneys.

Day 5: Head back to Glasgow. Do some shopping. Foodwise? You have to go for good Scottish fare so try these links.

Day 6: Edinburgh. Get your souvenirs and relax.

However! If you fancy putting some miles in then get thee to the REAL Highlands!

Day 1: Edinburgh. Laugh at men wearing skirts.
Day 2: Drive to Inverness (3.5 hours, latter half beautiful scenery). Plenty places to stay and eat.
Day 3: Drive 2 hours to Ullapool (more great scenery) and take ferry to Stornoway (check timetables and fares on prevCalMac link + it's about a 3 hour journey). Finally, arrive in God's Own Country! Why not stay in a Blackhouse? (warning Gaelic mp3)
Day 4: Drive down through the hallowed lands of Lewis and Harris exploring as you go and take ferry to Skye. Stay overnight.
Day 5: Drive through Glen Coe to Glasgow. Eat out, stay overnight.
Day 6: Back to Edinburgh. The Castle is a must and check out our wacked out Parliament buildings too.

For car hire I always use Enterprise. Good rates, friendly staff, excellent service. Driving in Scotland is easy and easier still outside the cities. Drivers should try to watch the road rather than the scenery though. Most cars are manual so if you need automatic then ask. Learn to use roundabouts.

Tourist traps? Pitlochry? Dufftown? St. Andrews? Pretty much all twee wee towns and not worth the stop.

Most B&B are good, just check the grades with the tourist board, there are some amazing hotels too.

Pack waterproofs. It will rain.

MeFi mail me if you need any specific pointers on any mentioned above!
posted by brautigan at 2:38 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, a third option would be head to Inverness as above but rather than head further north to Ullapool, drive back south along the banks of Loch Ness to Fort William, over to Skye then back to Glasgow via Glencoe.
posted by brautigan at 2:43 PM on January 28, 2008

Response by poster: You all rock. Keep posting. Thanks!
posted by rbs at 2:46 PM on January 28, 2008

A friend and I went to Glasgow and Edinburgh a couple of years ago and got some great advice on what to do there.

Our favorite part of the trip was the last two days -- we drove a car and drove up to Inverness. It was a lovely drive with some incredible scenery. We both said that if we had it to do over again, we would have gotten out of the cities sooner.
posted by amarynth at 2:55 PM on January 28, 2008

Agree completely with the comments about getting out of the cities, but you will need a car if you head north out of the central belt (or south for that matter). The drive from Glasgow to Fort William is just beautiful. Just be careful on the road from Tarbet to Ardlui.

Personally, I'd consider a day in Edinburgh then through to Glasgow via the Falkirk Wheel.

From Glasgow, hire a car and head west to Loch Fyne. From there, take the coast road to Oban and on to Fort William. From Fort William, head back down through Glencoe (stopping at The Real Food Cafe for food), and keep on the A85 over to Perth. From Perth you can drop back down into Edinburgh or go through Stirling.

If you can make it to Skye then I highly recommend the Three Chimneys restaurant.

Alternatively, just get a good guide book, hire a car and go. Most of us are friendly and if I could be in Glasgow when you're here (I moved south across the border), I'd be happy to meet up.

I also second Brautigan's comments about the tourist trap towns. There are plenty of other places far more worthy of your time, and some would say that Edinburgh's the biggest tourist trap of them all..
posted by Nugget at 2:58 PM on January 28, 2008

I'm an American who lived in Scotland for a year for work. I haven't been back in a while, and I'm jealous of your trip! A few comments on St. Andrews (one of the two places I lived):

It is small, but it's really beautiful. Make time for it. From the castle ruins to the University, it's quite photogenic and worth your time. If you can swing a couple of meals, I would recommend grabbing lunch at the clubhouse at the St. Andrews Bay hotel on the outskirts of the city. It has the most outstanding location on a piece of land that juts out into the ocean. You look over the sea at the city on one end, out to the ocean and the oil rigs in the far distance to another, and onto the golf course to the other.

Second, have dinner at a little place called The Grange Inn (Grange Road, 44-0-1334 472670). Best. Dinner. Ever. Run by a husband and wife, nice as can be. You can probably get in without a reservation, but I'd recommend getting one anyway.

The city itself is small, but very walkable. You'll need a car to get to either of these two places, though.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:11 PM on January 28, 2008

Highly recommend Scotland the Best. The reviews of restaurants and tourist destinations is pretty spot on and we used it a lot more than we thought we would.

I would recommend a little bit more time in Edinburgh. It is a lovely city. Highly recommend the The Literary Pub Crawl.
posted by purephase at 5:52 PM on January 28, 2008

Was in Scotland over the summer. Oban is merely then end of the train line and a ferry port for the Western Isles. If you aren't going to explore the isles you don't want to bother with Oban. That said, explore the isles if you have the time - totally gorgeous.

Double, triple, quadruple everyone's recommendations for the road running east of Glencoe. Probably the most beautiful road I've ever driven.
posted by johngumbo at 8:13 PM on January 28, 2008

Are you going to be about for a good time on the 21st? Then go to Optimo in Glasgow on Sunday night. You'll like it, but you won't want to get up early the next day.
posted by bonaldi at 8:17 PM on January 28, 2008

I assume anyone planning to visit Scotland in March knows it will be cold, but I feel compelled to point out that you will be very glad to have wind proof clothing. Especially on the coast. That said, I second brautigan's fantastic recommendations and expect you'll have a wonderful time.
posted by cali at 9:02 PM on January 28, 2008

i'd recommend settling on just two or three places and staying in each for a couple of days. Scotland is best appreciated on long chilly walks followed by afternoon tea and you just can't really do that on a whirlwind schedule.
posted by nangua at 2:33 AM on January 29, 2008

Edinburgh is itself a tourist trap and really not worth spending too much time in.

Instead, You could do
1. Edinburgh
2. Glasgow
3. up to Oban (going the long way round through Glencoe if you want) and thence to Mull, to spend a night in Ptarmigan in Tobermory or, better yet Glengorm Castle, overlooking the wild and remote Ardnamurchan peninsula.
4. Drive down Mull, passing Duart Castle, and then to Iona, before heading back down to
5. Glasgow or Edinburgh (via Loch Lomond), depending on your preference for city.
posted by my face your at 6:44 AM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I nth the drive up to Fort William, stunning is not the word, and you get to see Ben Nevis just beyond if it's not pouring it down. Aside from that I'd recommend Arran, easy to get to via ferry and very beautiful - many shades of Scotland in one place.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:16 AM on January 29, 2008

Also, you might like to have a look at this film, it gives a good overview of places to go in Scotland.
posted by Lezzles at 4:27 AM on February 1, 2008

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