Travel Update


Driving in Scotland

5 Best Road Trips in Scotland : A Local Expert's View

By: Greg
Last Updated: 27/10/2023

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime with our pick of the best Scottish road trips. Driving through Scotland offers you the opportunity to experience the country’s natural beauty, meet welcoming locals and explore at your own pace.

You could see majestic castles that once housed Scottish royalty, visit renowned museums to learn about our history, and view spots where famous battles took place. 

If you’re planning a Scottish road trip, read on for our guide on the 5 best driving tours in Scotland, as recommended by our Edinburgh-based consultants. It may help you choose which route to take and get the most out of your Scottish trip!

The best routes:

Route 1: North Coast 500 & Islands - 6 days

Best Scottish road trip for: castle-spotters, trendy travellers and coastal views.

As one of Scotland’s newest routes, the North Coast 500 (or NC500 if you love a good acronym) has become increasingly popular with travellers, and for good reason. It runs along the north coast of Scotland, taking in clifftop castles, beaches with white sands and turquoise waters, famous film locations, and much more.

Unsurprisingly, it’s ranked by independent sources such as Condé Nast as perhaps one of the best road trips in the world.

What’s the drive like?

The traditional circular loop covers over 500 miles (830 km) of iconic scenery, historic villages, castles and coastline.  You can drive the North Coast 500 route in just a few days, or you can stretch it over a week or two while doing some sightseeing.

Our recommended route takes in Orkney and Skye as well - both should not be missed if you are in this neighbourhood! You can still "close the loop" but via a slightly different route.


Recommended itinerary for the North Coast 500

Day 1: Inverness to Orkney

Kick off your route at the iconic Inverness Castle, crossing the Black Isle Peninsula in early morning. After an hour or so, you’ll be near the fairytale-like Dunrobin Castle. We recommend setting aside a couple of hours for a look around, before heading on to seaside Scrabster.

In the early afternoon, catch the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness, Orkney. You'll enjoy spectacular views of the Old Man of Hoy during your crossing.

Day 2: Orkney Exploration

Get acquainted with Orkney, with its jaw dropping scenery and ruins dating back to the Stone Age. The UNESCO-listed Heart of Neolithic Orkney, including Skara Brae, should be on any travel-lover’s wish list. Spend your whole day exploring before getting some well-earned rest in Kirkwall.

Day 3: Orkney to Ullapool via Scrabster

Wake up early and catch the ferry to Scrabster, before rejoining the famous North Coast 500 route and heading for Ullapool. Expect rocky cliffs, golden beaches (perhaps a surprise?) and beautiful mountains. Along the way, visit the beautiful Smoo Cave, the largest and most dramatic sea cave in Britain.

“I highly recommend stopping off at Knockan Crag and following the scenic trail around the nature reserve. There are fantastic views over the otherworldly landscape of Assynt with its remarkable mountains, such as Stac Pollaidh.

Some of the world’s oldest rocks can be seen here - over millions of years, ice, weather and erosion have shaped what rocks you see today.” - Chris Glauche, Travel Consultant

Day 4: Ullapool to Skye

After breakfast, start by visiting the breathtaking mile-long Corrieshalloch Gorge. Next, head along the west coast, stopping at Inverewe Garden. The 2500 exotic plants and flowers within manage to flourish thanks to warmth provided by the Gulf Stream, which nuzzles against the coastline here. Before you reach Skye, we suggest a pit stop at the photogenic village of Plockton, near the shores of Loch Carron.

Day 5: Skye Exploration

Today take full advantage of your day on Skye, a haven for nature lovers. Visit the colourful village of Portree, then drive around the northern part of the island and take in the impressive Trotternish Peninsula along the way. From there, walk up to “The Old Man of Storr” and witness the beautiful Kilt Rock Waterfall.

Day 6: Skye to Inverness via Loch Ness

On your way to "closing the loop", stop by picturesque Eilean Donan Castle, made famous by many appearances on the big and small screen alike. Next, head for the dark and enigmatic Loch Ness, perhaps keeping an eye out for Nessie along the way. Don't forget to explore Urquhart Castle, resting on the loch shore.

Route 2: The Argyll Coastal Route - 3 days

Best Scottish road trip for: seafood lovers, wildlife watchers and Munro baggers.

Sample seafood, explore the ancient kingdoms and admire the Scottish Highlands on the Argyll Coastal Route. You’ll travel along the peaceful banks of Loch Lomond, past the rocky seashore of Scotland’s west coast, and through the mighty mountains of the Scottish Highlands before arriving in Fort William, Scotland’s adventure capital.

What’s the drive like?

Covering only 129 miles (208 km), you can easily drive this route in one day. But the better option, in our opinion, is to take your time and stretch it across a long weekend, making sightseeing stops along the way.

The best itinerary for the Argyll Coastal Route

Day 1: Tarbet to Auchindrain 

Start in Tarbet, where you can explore the many highlights of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Head west to Inveraray, a charming village known for its whitewashed houses, historic jail and fairytale castle, before continuing to Auchindrain. 

Day 2: Auchindrain to Oban 

Start at the Kilmartin Museum and then drive to Carnasserie Castle, a 15th-century tower house that played a role in Argyll’s rebellion against James VII. Make a detour to Easdale Island, where you could go on a whale-watching trip and visit a local seal colony.

Day 3: Oban to Fort William

Start the day visiting Oban, known as the “Seafood capital of Scotland” and the “Gateway to the isles”. Visit historic sites like McCaig's Tower or Dunollie Museum, sample fresh seafood or whisky at Oban Distillery. On the way to Fort William, you could stop off at Castle Stalker, Ardchattan Priory Gardens, and the Scottish Sealife Sanctuary.

Route 3: Royal Deeside Tourist Route - 3 days

Best Scottish road trip for: nature lovers, golfers and history buffs.

Travel through the enchanting landscape of the Cairngorms National Park on your drive from Perth to Aberdeen on the Royal Deeside Tourist Route. This charming and relatively short route takes in the farmlands of Blairgowrie, mighty mountains of the Highlands, and rich rolling landscape of Royal Deeside.

What’s the drive like?

One of the shortest routes, the Royal Deeside Tourist Route is only 108 miles (174 km) so can easily be driven in a day or two.

The best itinerary for the Royal Deeside Tourist Route

Day 1: Perth to Blairgowrie 

Spend the day exploring Perth’s charming old town, where you can visit the Perth Museum and Art Gallery and the Black Watch Museum located in the Balhousie Castle. Nearby you’ll also find the historic Scone Palace, where Scottish kings used to be crowned upon the stone of destiny.

Day 2: Blairgowrie to Aboyne

Today, you’ll spend the day driving through and exploring the stunning scenery of the Cairngorms National Park, a haven for hikers, bird watchers, nature lovers and in winter, skiers.

You can also learn about Scottish history at Braemar or Crathes castles, sample local spirits at the Royal Lochnagar whisky distillery, or discover the art of cheesemaking at Cambus O’May creamery.

"The Burn O’Vat near Dinnet in Royal Deeside is one of Scotland’s best natural wonders. It was carved out by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago.

You have to creep through a narrow crack in the rock to stand in this atmospheric cavern. It may look like a difficult undertaking but this was a favourite hideaway of Queen Victoria, who managed it in her many skirts!

It was also used as a hideout from authorities by Patrick Gilroy MacGregor, a notorious 17th-century Scottish outlaw and cattle rustler." - Sarah McLachlan, Travel Consultant

Day 3: Aboyne to Aberdeen

On the final day, check out the medieval Drum Castle with its charming Garden of Historic Roses and ancient woodlands. Then continue on to Aberdeen, the “Silver City”, where you can admire its granite architecture, and visit museums like the Gordon Highlanders Museum and the Aberdeen Maritime Museum.

Route 4: Road to the Isles - 2 Days

Best Scottish road trip for: sea lovers, beachgoers and Harry Potter fans.

Discover dramatic coastlines with sandy tropical-looking beaches, Harry Potter film locations, and rich Highland history on the Road to the Isles. At the end of the road, you then have the option to sail off to the Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, or even Skye, to continue your Scottish adventure.

What’s the drive like?

Stretching from the west coast of north Scotland to Mallaig, the Road to the Isles covers the short distance of 42 miles (67 km). If you drove it straight, without detours, the drive would only take 1 hour, but, if time allows, we recommend breaking it up into two days.

The best itinerary for the Road to the Isles

Day 1: Fort Williams to Glenfinnan 

Start the day exploring Fort William, where you could pop into the Ben Nevis Distillery Visitor Centre. Then drive past the Caledonian Canal and Great Glen with a quick stop at the Treasures of the Earth in Corpach, to see Europe’s finest private collection of gemstones.

End your day in Glenfinnan, along the shores of Loch Shiel. Here you can walk through the Great Glen, visit the Glenfinnan Monument, a tribute to those who died fighting the Jacobite cause, and admire the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by the Harry Potter film series.

Day 2: Glenfinnan to Mallaig 

As you leave Glenfinnan, stop at Camusdarach beach to admire its silver dunes. Consider making the detour along the banks of Loch Morar to try to spot the infamous Morag monster, or continue directly to the quaint fishing village of Mallaig.

Many ferries leave from here, making it the perfect starting point for island hopping.

Route 5: Grand Tour of Scotland - 16 Days

Best Scottish road trip for: seeing it all, history buffs, nature lovers, whisky connoisseurs, and those with a deep Scottish pride.

Ready for the ultimate road trip? The grand tour of Scotland takes you to all of the country’s best sights and places. You’ll drive through the mighty Highlands, past rumbling rivers, travel to iconic islands like Orkney and Skye, and have plenty of opportunities to stop off along the way.

After this epic 16-day drive, you’ll feel like you’ve genuinely seen our beautiful country.

What’s the drive like?

From Edinburgh, you’ll drive into the Highlands and up to the most northerly part of mainland UK to take a ferry to Orkney. Next, you'll head west to explore the Isles of Harris and Lewis before going down to Skye. Covering 2580 miles (4152 km), this route is the ultimate Scottish road trip.

The best itinerary for a Grand Tour of Scotland

Day 1: Edinburgh

Today, explore the Scottish capital. Walk through Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage site of the Old Town and New Town. We also recommend walking the Royal Mile from the Palace of Holyrood House all the way up to the top of the road, where you’ll find Edinburgh Castle atop ancient crags.

Day 2: Edinburgh to Aberdeen

Drive north into the Kingdom of Fife where you can first stop at the quaint village of Falkland, with its Renaissance palace and beautiful gardens. We also recommend visiting the town of St Andrews, famously known as the “Home of Golf”.

Driving north, stop to visit the UNESCO City of Design, Dundee, before heading up to Aberdeen. You can either drive the direct route, or head along the scenic coastal road.

Day 3: Aberdeen to Inverness

Today, you’ll explore the stunning Scottish Highlands by driving the Deeside Tourist Route through the Cairngorms National Park (like in route #3). Along the way you could also visit the Scottish residence of the British Royal Family, Balmoral Castle.

Please note that Balmoral is only open for a few weeks a year. If you'd like to see it, ask a travel consultant for more information.

The last section of the drive takes you through Speyside, which is home to over half the whisky distilleries in Scotland.

Day 4: Inverness to Kirkwall

This morning, hit the road early, so you have enough time to explore the Black Isle Peninsula and fairytale Dunrobin Castle, before catching the ferry to the Viking village of Kirkwall on Orkney’s mainland.

Day 5: Orkney

Spend the day exploring the Orkney Isles, with their stunning scenery and Stone Age ruins. Make sure to check out the UNESCO World Heritage listed “Heart of Neolithic Orkney”, which includes Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe.

Day 6: Orkney to Ullapool

Take the ferry back to mainland Scotland and join the famous North Coast 500 route (see route #1). Some of the highlights include the eerie Smoo Cave, the stunning beaches of Durness, and the 15th-century ruins of Ardvreck Castle.

Day 7: Ullapool to the Outer Hebrides

From Ullapool, catch the ferry to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. Here you’ll be able to learn about its Gaelic culture and history. We recommend visiting the museum of Black Arnol Museum, and don’t miss the mysterious Callanish Standing Stones.

Day 8: Isle of Lewis to Harris

Spend the day exploring the Isle of Harris to the south, including the quaint village of Tarbert and the dramatic scenery along the Golden Road. Here you’ll also find tropical-looking beaches with white sand and turquoise waters.

Day 9: Hop to the Isle of Skye

Catch the ferry to the Isle of Skye and then explore the northern part of the island, the beautiful Trotternish Peninsula. Stretch your legs with a walk up the Old Man of Storr and admire the stunning Kilt Rock and Mealt waterfall. Other highlights include the Quiraing, An Corran Beach and the Fairy Glen.

Day 10 and 11: Isle of Skye

Devote two entire days to exploring everything Skye has to offer, walking its many trails and learning about local history. Sip coffee in Portree, marvel at Dunvegan Castle, walk along Claigan Coral Beach and drive to the dramatic Neist Point. You can even sample whisky at Talisker Distillery.

Day 12: Isle of Skye to Fort William

Swap the Isle of Skye for the Scottish Highlands. Stop along the way at the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle, drive along the mystical shores of Loch Ness (try to spot the famed Loch Ness monster!), and explore the lakeside ruins of Urquhart Castle.

Day 13: Isle of Mull

Today drive down to Oban and take a ferry across to the Isle of Mull, where you’ll find white sandy beaches, towering mountain peaks and stunning nature. Highlights include Duart Castle, Ben More, Calgary Bay and the quaint village of Tobermory.

Day 14: Isles of Iona and Staffa

Located just off the Isle of Mull, today we recommend visiting the tiny islands of Iona and Staffa. The boat tour will take you to Iona, where you can visit Iona Abbey, before sailing off to Staffa. Here you can explore Fingal’s Cave, and try to spot dolphins and minke whales.

Day 15: Into the Trossachs National Park

Back on the Scottish mainland, head south through Kilmartin Glen, an area rich with Neolithic and Bronze Age sites. You may wish to stop by Inveraray, a lovely village on the banks of Loch Fyne. Drive along the shores of Loch Lomond to the enchanting village of Luss.

Day 16: Back to Edinburgh

Make your way back to Edinburgh by driving along the shores of Loch Lomond and through the Trossachs National Park. On the way, visit Doune Castle, take a boat trip along Loch Katrine, and, if time allows, explore Stirling Castle.

Get help planning your road trip

Our dedicated travel consultants, based in Edinburgh, are here to help you plan the perfect road trip, including booking accommodation, arranging ferries and activities, and much more.

You’ll even be able to call them 24/7 on our emergency helpline in case a ferry is delayed or you otherwise need assistance during your trip.

Check out our Scotland self-drive tours for more information.

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Post by: Greg

Greg Perkins is from Edinburgh, Scotland, but he adopted Iceland as his second country when Scotland (typically) managed not to qualify for football's Euro 2016 tournament. His passions include travel, English literature, and board games. Among his top travel experiences are sailing along Geirangerfjord with classically trained singers providing the soundtrack, seeing Sólheimajökull glacier up close in South Iceland, and witnessing the unspoiled beauty of New Zealand's Doubtful Sound fjord.

Find Greg on LinkedIn.

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Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way - check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.