My most recent travel adventures have sent me to parts of the western highlands and some of Scotland’s breathtaking islands. I thought it would be a nice idea to put a travel itinerary together for a getaway of roughly 1-2 weeks, depending on how long you want to spend in each place.
1. Take on the UK’s steepest road ascent.
Travel north via the Cairngorms and Inverness, and then carry on on the beautiful North Coast 500 taking a northwestern turn to head to the west coast. The NC500 is a famous scenic route along the north coast of Scotland and definitely worth a drive. Along the road you will encounter lovely villages such as Lochcarron, and eventually you will end up on the road to Applecross via Bealach na Bà – the UK’s steepest road, famously featured on dangerousroads.org, and signposted with plenty of warnings. Alas, do not despair, it’s actually not that bad. I drove this road in December last year with summer tyres on my 2003 Ford Fiesta, so you can probably do it, too.
Along the way up, make sure to stop for a minute and look down and up in awe.
Once you have reached Applecross, stay here or continue on the coastal route to Torridon which is less steep but not less spectacular. Torridon is equally beautiful and calls for outdoors exploration and hiking.
2. Have coffee and cake at the Big Sand.
Not got enough of the NC500? Of course not. Let’s continue north to Gairloch on the NC500. The descent down to Gairloch is a particularly spectacular drive with amazing views, so make sure to drive slowly to be able to stop in time to take pictures and take in the views.
At Gairloch, go and visit the Big Sand caravan park / beach. There is also a nice wee restaurant that offers food and coffee, so if you are in need of nourishment, make a stop there – or have a picnic at the beach.
3. Explore the beaches of Lewis & Harris.
Head to Ullapool, once more northbound along the NC500, and take the ferry over to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and Harris. The Isle of Lewis & Harris have amazing beaches to explore, including the famous Lyskentyre and Seilebost beaches on Harris, and my personal favourites (and the much less busy) Garry beach and Tolstadh beach on Lewis. Fans of the TV show Outlander, and probably everyone else, will be delighted to find the interesting standing stones at Callanish.
Once you have explored Lewis and Harris – and maybe shopped for some exclusive Harris tweed or Gin, continue your exploration on an island further south – Skye – after a quick ferry ride from Tarbert on Harris to Uig on Skye.
4. Get high on Skye.
Skye is probably one of the most famous and popular Scottish islands, and for a good reason: it is stunning, and there are plenty of places to explore. I particularly enjoyed getting up to higher ground: take the brief hike up to the Old Man of Storr. And make sure you don’t miss the drive up to Quiraing (yet another road featured on dangerousroads.org), the view from up there is otherworldly. Also make sure you visit the Neist Point Lighthouse.
The hike up the Fairy Pools will take you up the mountain along seemingly endless waterfalls, streams, and pools, of clear water, and will leave you enchanted (however, take some insect repellant otherwise the midges will eat you alive).
5. Visit the most famous Scottish Castle.
Once you have had enough of Skye (which may never be the case), head back to the mainland via the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and make your way to Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie.
6. Snap a pic of the Harry Potter Viaduct/Steam train.
Head along south and take a quick detour at Fort William to Glenfinnan to visit the steam train viaduct and see the Glenfinnan monument.
7. Stop by at Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor.
This really does not need to be explained and it’s in pretty much any tourist route, but it’s beautiful so you should definitely see it.
8. Stop at Castle Stalker and Oban.
Castle Stalker lies on the drive between Glen Coe and Oban and is a stunning wee castle on its own Island – and one of my favourites in Scotland. Stop by along the road or hop in to the Cafe with a view for a refreshment.
Oban is a cute harbour town and ferry port. Take a walk along the pier, explore the panorama from McCaig’s tower, grab some food at Cuan More and head to Markie Dans for a cheeky dram and some live music.
9. Hop over to the Isle of Mull.
The Isle of Mull is a gem with scenic drives, white sand beaches and a lovely colourful capital (Tobermory) with good restaurants. I had my lunch at The Mishnish on the pier and got a delicious vegetarian meal along with the friendliest service.
10. Have a cider and spot deer at one of Scotland’s most romantic hotels.
Ardanaiseig Hotel is one of the most romantic and enchanted hotels I have ever seen. It is tucked away along Loch Awe and requires a detour but it is worth it. We visited by accident but the hotel staff was very welcoming and showed us around the beautiful hotel gardens, told us the romantic cemetery story of the owners, and offered us snacks and a cider.
11. Pray at St. Conan’s Kirk.
St. Conan’s Kirk is situated on the shore of Loch Awe and worth a stop and wander around the kirk and kirk gardens.
12. Trespass at abandoned buildings.
Maybe not trespassing, but the best thrill probably comes from discovering your own secret spot in Scotland. So just keep your eyes peeled for the many abandoned buildings and ruined castles with their interesting history.