Scotland, UK

Itinerary: Edinburgh – Stirling – Cairngorms National Park – Inverness – Loch Ness – Isle of Skye – Glencoe National Nature Reserve – Inveraray – Loch Lomond


On Friday morning at eight AM I leave Amsterdam International Airport Schiphol for a short flight of about an hour and a half to the Scottish capital Edinburgh. The time difference between the Netherlands and Scotland is one hour, so we land on Scottish soil around half past eight. I take my luggage to my hotel and take the tram to the city center. When I get off at the Princess Street stop, the first thing I hear is a bagpiper. My first sights and sounds of Edinburgh couldn’t be more Scottish. 🙂

Scotland (which has approximately 5.4 million inhabitants) is one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Until 1707 it was an independent kingdom, in that year it formed the kingdom of Great Britain together with England. The desire for independence has never completely gone away among the Scots. In the last referendum on independence, almost half of Scots voted in favor. But ‘London’ does not allow an independent Scotland for the time being. However, since 1997, the Scots have been given more autonomy within Great Britain; Scotland has its own laws and flag, and since 1999 the Scots have had their own parliament for the first time since 1707.

You don’t go to Scotland because of the climate. Rain is always a possibility and it never gets really hot. Statistically, April is the driest month, but if you are unlucky it can still rain for a week. However, I am lucky with the weather: it’s chilly, but fairly sunny spring weather and that is good, because I’m going to be outside a lot the next nine days. First I have planned two days to explore the Scottish capital.


Edinburgh is a city that is more than a thousand years old, built on and around three hills: Castle Hill, Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, all three remains of extinct volcanoes. Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since 1437. Most sights, museums, restaurants and of course pubs in the center are within walking distance. You do have to climb a bit every now and then, because the location on three former volcanoes provides the necessary height differences (which in turn also provide beautiful panoramas).

I start my first day in Edinburgh in the oldest part of the city, appropriately called Old Town. Old Town is a beautiful historic city center, with atmospheric streets and stately buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. The Royal Mile runs centrally through the Old Town, from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse Palace, (in fact five streets that are an extension of each other). I stroll leisurely down the Royal Mile, past the statues of the Scottish philosophers David Hume and, a little further on, Adam Smith. Along the Royal Mile there are several historic buildings with beautiful facades, often centuries old. Such as the John Knox House, a former private house (now a museum) built in 1490, and the Canongate Tolbooth, built in 1591, a former toll house with a striking gable clock, which now houses a pub.

At the end of the Royal Mile you arrive in the Holyrood district, east of Old Town. The Scottish Parliament has been located here since 2004, in a modern concrete and steel building that is quite different from its surroundings. Holyrood is also home to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the former residence of Scotland’s Queen Mary. From here you can also see Arthur’s Seat, a 251 meter high rock (overlooking Edinburgh).

On the way back I walk past Greyfrier’s Kirkyard with old graves, and past the statue of Greyfrier’s Bobby, the dog who faithfully watched over the grave of his deceased owner for fourteen years in the early twentieth century. Via Grassmarket, named after the medieval cattle market that took place on this site and where pubs and restaurants are now located, I return to Castle Hill. I walk up the Castle Wynd Steps, which end at the Castle Esplanade.

Edinburgh Castle stands high above the rest of the city on Castle Hill. The Medieval castle was once the center of power of the Scottish kings. In addition to being a royal residence, Edinburgh Castle has also been used in the past as an arsenal, national archives and prison. Within the sturdy fortress walls with artillery bastions you will find some of Edinburgh’s oldest buildings. Most date from the late sixteenth century, such as the Portcullis Gate and Argyle Tower, but St Margaret’s Chapel (twelfth century), the Great Hall (early sixteenth century) and the Royal Palace with the Crown Room (fifteenth century) are older. You can reach this oldest and highest part of Edinburgh Castle via the seventeenth century Foog’s Gate. Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction and definitely worth a visit.


My second day in Edinburgh I start in the Princess Street Gardens, a green park at the bottom of Castle Hill, which was created in 1820 after the draining of a lake that lay at the foot of Castle Hill. It is a nice relaxing place with a view of Edinburgh Castle and the ‘skyline’ of Old Town. A little further on, the striking gothic Scott Monument (in honor of the Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott) stands on the edge of the Princess Street Gardens.

Then I walk to Calton Hill, one of the three former volcanoes. At the top of the hill you have a beautiful panoramic view of Edinburgh. Calton Hill also houses the Scotland Monument, a half-finished copy of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Back downstairs I visit the Scottish National Gallery. This free museum mainly contains paintings and some sculptures by Scottish and European painters. There are also several paintings by Dutch masters.

After lunch I walk through New Town. The name of this district is relative, because New Town is now 250 years old, but it’s still a lot newer than Old Town. At the time, it was Edinburgh’s first expansion outside the Old Town. The architecture is also completely different: in New Town you will find wide straight streets and neoclassical architecture. The stately buildings house hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. I walk down George Street towards Charlotte Square, where the West End district begins. This is a residential neighborhood with stately houses with black cast iron fences, built in a semicircular shape around green squares. The West End is also where the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is located. I pay a short visit to this (free admission) museum, which is housed in two nineteenth century buildings, surrounded by gardens.


Located next to West End is Dean Village. This was once an independent village outside Edinburgh, but has now become part of the city. It still feels like a village, although a village in the middle of a city. Dean Village dates back to the sixteenth century, when it was home to grain mills powered by the waters of the Water of Leith, the river that flows through Edinburgh. The mills have disappeared, but the old houses and cobblestone streets still give the very picturesque Dean Village the atmosphere of that time.


On Sunday morning I pick up my rental car at Edinburgh airport. For the next seven days I will be driving around Scotland in a white Fiat 500. It is a bit awkward at first: the steering wheel is on the right, the traffic drives on the left, and I am no longer used to switching gears manually on a daily basis. I have driven on the left before, but in the beginning you always have to be careful. I leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind me and drive north from Edinburgh. The weather is less nice than in recent days: it is cloudy and drizzling as I drive through the hilly landscape of southern Scotland.

Three quarters of an hour north of Edinburgh, right on the border between the Lowlands in the south and the Highlands further north, lies the town of Stirling. Here I visit Stirling Castle, located high on a hill with panoramic views of the surroundings. Stirling’s strategic location is the reason why several battles for Scottish independence took place here in the past. “Hold Stirling and you will hold Scotland,” went the adage. Surrounding the castle are the old cobbled streets of Stirling Old Town, including the Old Town Jail, a ruined church and a number of houses dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

After a lunch stop near the city of Perth I drive further north. I stop briefly at Loch Dunmore and then drive along a narrow road towards Queen’s View. From a high vantage point you have beautiful views over the hills and Loch Tummel. In the distance you can even see the snow-capped peaks of the Glencoe Mountains (which are located in the west of Scotland and which I will visit later during this road trip). When I arrive a little later at the hamlet of Blair Atholl, the weather has improved. I park the car at my hotel and then take a walk of almost two hours, along the river Tilt and green hills. At the end of the walk I also pass Blair Castle, a white plastered medieval castle that has been owned by the Duke of Atholl for seven hundred years.

Cairngorms National Park

The Scottish Highlands are well-known, a large area with mountains, pine forests, valleys carved out by glaciers and countless lakes. Cairngorms National Park, the largest national park in the United Kingdom, is located at the heart of the Highlands. I start the day with a walk to the Bruar Falls. The easy to follow path runs up the Bruar Gorge, past the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls, from the old stone bridges over the gorge you have a beautiful view of the sharp looking rocks in the gorge and of the river Bruar. At the top you have a wide view over the mountains and hills of the Cairngorms. It is a wonderful walk, also because there is no one else there.

Bruar Gorge

After my walk along the Bruar Gorge, at the southern end of Cairngorms National Park, I drive west towards Aviemore. The mountains are rolling, the environment has brown, beige, moss green and gray tones. The trees still have few leaves at this time of year. It’s cloudy, but mainly dry. I stop at Loch An Eilein, a serene lake in the middle of Rothiemurchus Forest, with pine trees and mountains in the background. On an island in the lake is the ruin of a fourteenth century castle, which is now underwater due to the increased water level in the lake. Here I take a short walk along the lake shore.

In the afternoon I arrive in Inverness, a port city in the north of Scotland, where the weather is cloudy and a bit drizzly. Inverness is located where the River Ness flows into the Moray Firth. I take a stroll through the center and past Inverness Castle, the twelfth-century castle on the east bank of the river. The castle is being renovated and is covered in scaffolding. Personally, I’m not really impressed by Inverness.

The Western Highlands

The next morning I drive south from Inverness, along the elongated Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the largest lake in volume in the British Isles, 37 kilometers long and no less than 230 meters deep, and best known for Scotland’s most famous monster: the Loch Ness Monster, nicknamed Nessie. Stories about Nessie have been circulating since the Middle Ages. It was an Irish monk, Columba, who originated the story that he was attacked by a monster at the River Ness, which he then chased into the deep lake. None of the claims of sightings since then have ever been confirmed. Just in case the story is true, these days a live stream with five webcams is monitoring the lake…

Loch Cluanie

I stop along the way to look out over Loch Ness (I don’t spot a monster) and also stop at Urquhart Castle, the ruins of a sixteenth century castle on the shore of Loch Ness. Near here I take a walk in an area called Craig Mony. The four kilometer long route runs through forest and past rolling meadows. From the highest point you have a beautiful view of Loch Ness. After this I drive west. The sun regularly shows itself between the clouds. The road winds along Loch Cluanie, both from the road and the various stopping points you have a fantastic view of the dark blue water of the lake and the moss green mountains behind it. The most beautiful part of my road trip through Scotland so far.

In the afternoon I visit Eilean Donan Castle, a castle dating from the fourteenth century. The photogenic castle stands on an island and is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. Then I drive towards the Isle of Sky. Just before I cross the Sky Bridge, the bridge to the famous island, I take a short walk at Kyle of Lochalsh, with views of the coastline, the water of the Inner Sound and the Sky Bridge.

Eilean Donan Castle

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye is the best known and perhaps most beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. It is part of the Inner Hebrides and is characterized by an amazingly beautiful landscape, with high mountain peaks, steep cliffs and green valleys. Skye will prove to be the highlight of my road trip through Scotland.

After spending the night in Broadford, the next morning I drive along the coast of the Isle of Skye to The Storr. The Storr is a mountain ridge on the Trotternish Peninsula. The spectacular landscape here was formed about sixty million years ago by lava flows from cracks in the Earth’s surface. Then there were glaciers tens of meters thick that formed vast escarpments during the last ice age. Erosion did the rest, resulting in striking rock formations, such as the photogenic upright rocks The Old Man of Storr and Needle Rock.

The highest point of The Storr is 719 meters. From the parking lot you can take an almost four kilometer walk (out and back) where you can experience The Storr and the almost artistic rock formations up close. It is a tough climb up, over a rocky path, but the stunning landscape, the impressive rocks and the wide panoramas are absolutely worth the effort.

Old Man of Storr

After two hours of walking I return to the parking lot and enjoy a well-deserved cup of coffee. Then I drive further along the coast of Skye. At Brothers Point I take a short walk, with beautiful views of the rugged rocky coast on this side of the Isle of Skye. I also stop a little further at Kilt Rock, a high cliff with vertical basalt columns and a waterfall that plunges from the cliff into the sea.

Then I drive to The Quiraing via a narrow single-lane road. As with The Storr, the spectacular landscape here has been shaped by lava eruptions, glaciers and erosion. At The Quiraing you can walk along a narrow path along the huge cliffs and rock formations, overlooking green valleys and panoramic views of the Trotternish Peninsula and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. After The Storr, The Quiraing is also absolutely magnificent.

The Quiraing

This walk takes me about an hour and a half. Then I go to my B&B, tired but satisfied. On Thursday morning I drive half an hour to Dunvegan Castle. This castle, beautifully situated on Loch Dunvegan, has been owned by the Clan MacLeod for eight hundred years. Personally, I don’t think the castle is very special.

One of the famous places on the Isle of Skye is Neist Point, a half-hour drive from Dunvegan Castle. Neist Point is a steep cliff that juts out into the sea from the coast, with a lighthouse at the end. A photogenic place. The road to and from Neist Point is largely a one-lane road that winds over the hills. The road is so narrow that two cars cannot pass each other. This is done at so-called ‘passing places’, extra pieces of asphalt that you find every few meters. This would absolutely not work in the Netherlands, but the Scots patiently give each other space. It is quite intensive driving though, even on the other roads. Most roads in Scotland are dual carriageways and many are in poor repair, with bumps, cracks and potholes.

Neist Point

Early in the afternoon I start the long drive to Fort William, almost a four-hour drive away. Much of the Isle of Skye’s interior is hilly and rural, with extensive grasslands grazing for sheep (which also occasionally wander onto the road). Here and there are white plastered houses in an otherwise quite empty landscape. If you like silence and space, this is the place for you.

Glencoe National Nature Reserve

It’s Friday morning when I’m back in the Highlands, in the Glencoe area to be precise. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the Highlands, with high mountains such as Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1,345 metres. In the area around Glencoe you will also find endless valleys, lakes and forests.

In the morning I first take a walk at Glen Lochan, a picturesque lake surrounded by coniferous trees, which reflect beautifully in the water of the lake when the sun shines. Then I drive Route A82, from west to east, straight through the Glencoe valley. This is a beautiful scenic drive, with various stops along the way where you can take in the impressive mountains. Well-known stops are The Three Sisters, the Glencoe Pass and the unmissable Buachaille Etive Mòr, the imposing mountain on the border of Glencoe. After leaving the valley, you pass the desolate area of Rannoch Moor. No imposing mountains here, but a vast tundra-like landscape with low vegetation.

Glencoe National Nature Reserve

Then I drive towards the town of Inveraray, past the ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the shore of Loch Awe. Inveraray is located in the Southern Highlands, in the southwest of Scotland. It is a picturesque town located on Loch Fyne, with white plastered houses and quite a few tourists. I also take a walk to Inveraray Castle, on the edge of the village. The castle is owned by the Duke of Argyll and looks like you would imagine a castle would, turrets and all. But it is not clear to me why the castle is painted moss green…

Loch Lomond

On Saturday morning I drive from Inveraray via the scenic A83 to the Rest and be thankful viewpoint. This viewpoint, located 245 meters above sea level, owes its name to Scottish soldiers who built a military road through the mountains here and had their resting place at the high point.

Then I drive to Loch Lomond. This 37 kilometer long and eight kilometer wide lake is the largest lake in surface area in the British Isles. I also stop in the picturesque village of Luss, on the banks of Loch Lomond, which is popular with tourists because of its well-preserved nineteenth century houses.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is the largest lake in what is called Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, a large area in southern Scotland with forests and lakes. To explore the entire area you need more time than I have, because in the afternoon I have to go to Edinburgh airport to return the Fiat 500 and fly back home.