Planning a Trip to Scotland, Part 2

by Keith Savage · 57 comments


Today’s post is part two in a series about planning a trip to Scotland. If you haven’t read Planning a Trip to Scotland, Part 1, you might want to read that first. If you’d like personalized help planning your trip, please take a look at my Scotland trip-planning service. 

Welcome back! Last week we looked at the best time to visit Scotland, taking into account weather, cultural events, and tourism’s high and low seasons. Now it’s time to consider where, in this incredibly varied country, you should spend your hard-earned vacation.

I won’t sugarcoat it; you won’t be able to see it all. Not in one trip at least. Planning your destinations in Scotland is at once a horrible war of attrition and some of the most fun I’ve ever had trip planning. Difficult decisions are ahead. Prepare yourself.

The amount of time you have for the trip dictates how much you can see, and I’ll cover these trade-offs in more depth next Monday. For now, let’s turn our eyes to the map of Scotland to understand the lay of the land.

Lowlands

The lowlands represent the land south of Glasgow and Edinburgh to the border with England. This region differs from the highlands both culturally and geographically: this area was not home to clans and much of the landscape is pastoral, rolling hills. The lowlands have been the stage for many battles between the Scottish and the English, home to ruined castles and abbeys guard the coasts and valleys, and home to some of Scotland’s greatest authors, men like Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

If you’re looking at the map of Scotland, you’ll notice it’s a rather large part of the country. And yet I’ve only been to this region for a handful of days on one previous trip. For non-UK residents, the lowlands often are a casualty of logistics. Most of the country stands to the north of the major cities. To visit the lowlands requires a strong desire or a longer trip as visiting it means going in the opposite direction from the rest of your destinations. If you’re driving into Scotland from England, the lowlands make a sensible, if short, addition to the itinerary.

To the north, the lowlands give way to Scotland’s fascinating cities…

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RABIANo Gravatar April 28, 2014 at 3:55 PM

hi
I am planning a trip of 4 days to Scotland from England with my husband n infant inthe month of june and I am totally unaware where to go and stay and what to see.i would be really please if u can help me in this .We want to see the best part of Scotland.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar April 28, 2014 at 5:18 PM

Hi Rabia,

It sounds like you need to do some research, and I have a host of articles on this site to help you. Take a look at my itinerary ideas and best of posts first, then read through the Planning a Trip to Scotland series (all these posts are linked in the sidebar, too).

ShanthiNo Gravatar April 21, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Hi,

Great blog! We are thinking of doing a trip to Scotland in July…my husband and I, along with our 2-year old. Traveling to Europe with a toddler is a little overwhelming, but we just have to do it or we never will. We have about a week to 10 days and we are wondering what you would suggest for a family with young kids…reasonably child friendly-locations, apartment-style accommodations where possible and we would like to avoid very long stretches of driving because that will drive the kid nuts.

Mike HNo Gravatar January 24, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Hi again Keith ,
If I followed correctly you mentioned your planning another trip this April-ish .. I planned my next trip last August for this upcoming April/May and it`s now just around the corner .
As your familiar and have mentioned the seemingly endless amount of Festivals etc. , big and small , taking place each year all over Scotland , I`d like to mention one that I`m happy to say ( and very excited to be finally going to ) one that perhaps might be new to some of your followers . I have wanted to go to this for a few years now , and finally I`ve arranged my next trip to Scotland to coincide with it . The Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh .
One of my favourite places has always been Calton Hill in Edinburgh . Such a view .
Each year on the night of April 30 , it takes place upon Calton Hill in the center of Edinburgh . Literally thousands of people attend each year , and what could possibly be better than such a party , and in the heart of Edinburgh !!!
Needless to say , I`m finally all packed and ready to attend this year , and SO looking forward to it .
For those who might want to see and learn a bit more about it , they have a website , and there are LOTS of videos of the Festival on Youtube . Check it out if you can .

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 24, 2014 at 5:42 PM

Very cool! The Beltane Fire Festival is supposed to be well worth attending. Thanks for the info, Mike!

RickNo Gravatar May 4, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Keith,

My wife stumbled onto your site last night and we’re both hooked. We are making our first trip to Scotland June 6th. Stopping in Oxford and York first then on to Scotland! We’ve planned our trip for months but the closer it gets and the more we read the more places we want to go. We do realize that we can’t do it all so we are doing our best to have a quality trip. Our last two days are in Edinburgh as we fly from there back to London. My wife would really like to see Skye and I would really like to take the ferry to Tarbert and stay for a day and night. We’d also like to see at least some of the Wester Ross area.
We would appreciate any advice you have. We leave York by car on the 9th and need to be in Edinburgh on the 16th.
Also, were are parts 3 and 4?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 4, 2013 at 11:48 AM

Hi Rick,

Here are parts 3 and 4:
http://www.traveling-savage.com/2011/02/21/planning-trip-scotland-part-3/
http://www.traveling-savage.com/2011/02/28/planning-trip-scotland-part-4/

Please note that costs are a couple years old at this point.

You could base yourself in Portree for a few days to see Skye and make a long day trip or two up Wester Ross through places like Applecross. I’m a diehard proponent of Perthshire (places like Dunkeld and Pitlochry) as well as the Speyside region (places like Aberlour). Do you mean Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula?

RickNo Gravatar May 4, 2013 at 1:48 PM

Thanks! We’ll take a look at your suggestions. Thanks for the links as well. The Tarbert I referred to is on Harris right next to the Isle of Lewis. I really wanted to go to Tongue and John O’Groat but after reflection I think it may be too far too drive.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 5, 2013 at 11:01 AM

You can easily get to Harris from Uig on northern Skye, so that should work really well. I would suggest skipping John O’Groats and focus your time on drives up the western coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland.

RickNo Gravatar May 5, 2013 at 11:15 AM

I agree. My wife has her heart set on Skye so my compromise is to go to Harris instead of Tongue. We are fighting the battle of trying to do too much! We do want to be able to stop and sight see whenever we want so we keep cutting down the stops and probably won’t get to all the ones we’ve agreed on. Several years ago in Ireland we made a grand total of about 100 miles in a 4 days due to our many stops. We weren’t a bot sorry though as the stops we made ending up being the best part of our trip.

Thanks again!
Rick

DavidNo Gravatar April 11, 2013 at 7:55 AM

Have you ever visited Fife? I live there and went to school along the coast in Anstruther. I can only speak for the East Neuk, really, but it’s a good place to visit, I reckon. Elie has a lovely beach and Anstruther has its famous Fish Bar. The Pittenweem Art Festival is good in summer, too. Then of course there’s St Andrews. Nice food in Fife, too. The Seafood Restaurant in St Andrews, 16 Westend in St Monans, Sangsters in Elie, the Peat Inn near St Andrews, Room with a View in Aberdour (the owners come and pick you up in a car as the road to the restaurant is so difficult). There are a lot of good restaurants for such a small place!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar April 11, 2013 at 8:53 AM

Hi David. I have visited Fife and especially enjoyed the East Neuk. The drive past Pittenweem has some beautiful views and I stopped for lunch in Crail, which was a pretty little seaside town. St. Andrews and Falkland were really nice as well. The only problem was that my visit to Fife occurred before I began Traveling Savage. Guess I need to get back there!

Thank you for all the recommendations – sounds marvelous!

AudreyNo Gravatar March 10, 2013 at 1:14 PM

Keith, I read earlier in your blog that you traced your family 600 years back to your Scottish roots. Could you let me know what resources you used? I was born in Glasgow, fathers side Scott, mothers side Burns

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 10, 2013 at 6:02 PM

I started with Ancestry.com, which was surprisingly rich with data (though much of it difficult/impossible to verify), and then once I had additional names I spent time in Edinburgh at a few places. This post should help: http://www.traveling-savage.com/2011/03/16/quick-start-guide-researching-scottish-genealogy/

AudreyNo Gravatar March 8, 2013 at 5:23 PM

Keith traveling to Edinburg April 19 and traveling through Scotland till the 28th. Not alot of time but want to get in as much a possible. We have a bed and breakfast voucher package. In reading your blog I was wondering where you would suggest to stay along the way that would allow for day trips. We have a car, Cheerio

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 8, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Hi Audrey,

If it’s completely open-ended, I would recommend Dunkeld/Pitlochry in Perthshire, the Aberlour area of Speyside and the Cairngorms, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, Mull and/or Orkney.

Enjoy the trip!

AbbyNo Gravatar January 31, 2013 at 10:45 PM

I have basically no experience in planning trips, but I really want to go to Scotland! I will read your blog more thoroughly and think about it though. I am really nervous that i will forget something or get lost, or miss out on something. I have absolutely no idea where I want to go either. Help!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 1, 2013 at 10:29 PM

Hi Abby. Yes, please check out this series of articles and the comments on them – that should give you a great start. Let me know if you have any specific questions.

RenatoNo Gravatar October 31, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Keith
I live in Brazil and I was just thinking about a trip to Scotland.
After reading your blog I´m sure I want to go.
My plan is to start my trip taking a train or a couch from London to Edinburgh, next May, 2013.
I´ll accept your suggestion of a 2 weeks visit for first timers.
I´ll use only trains and buses, because I´m affraid of driving right hand to rent a car…
Would you give a day by day suggestion?
I was thinking about visiting Edinburgh, Glasgow, Highlands and some islands (Orkney?).
Thanks a lot
Renato

Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 5, 2012 at 4:10 PM

Hi Renato,

Based on the information you’ve provided here, you’ve already got a good handle on your two-week trip. You can travel between all of your destinations by train: Edinburgh to Glasgow is a quick ride, you can catch a train all the way up to Thurso where you can get a taxi to the ferry terminal to Orkney, and trains go all over the highlands. I would spend 4 days in Edinburgh and use one as a day trip to Glasgow. You could spend a couple days in Perthshire or Speyside on your way up to Orkney where I would spend three nights. Spend a few more nights in the west highlands on the back down to the cities. You could also slot in a couple nights on Skye.

In case you’re curious, I’m working on devising some more thorough consulting options for trips to Scotland.

RenatoNo Gravatar November 6, 2012 at 5:18 AM

Keith
Thanks for the answer; I´ll make my plan based on your suggestions.
Best regards

Rich WehrmanNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 10:33 PM

How much should one allow for the cost of meals daily (in dollars)?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 11:15 PM

I typically budget $50/day assuming that my breakfast is included with the B&B. That said, I almost always come in under that – sometimes far below. Of course, if you splurge you can go far beyond that number but I find $50 to be a good, fair number with a nice buffer built in.

santafetravelerNo Gravatar February 21, 2011 at 6:41 PM

Would love to see something about Findhorn,, a place that’s been on my bucket list way too long.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 21, 2011 at 8:34 PM

My only experience with Findhorn is crossing the River Findhorn at the Dulsie Bridge – it’s an incredibly beautiful old stone arch bridge over a ravine that flash floods dangerously. I happened upon it driving from Inverness to Grantown-on-Spey.

Andy JaroszNo Gravatar February 18, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Great post Keith – there’s so much to see in Scotland that you’ll never see it all – but you’re trip should cover a lot of the country. Will be interested to follow where you get to in the islands. Each one is special in its own way. Happy travels!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 18, 2011 at 12:05 PM

I agree, Andy, impossible to see it all. That’s why I’m planning eight separate trips! 🙂 The islands are really exciting to me.

Camels & ChocolateNo Gravatar February 17, 2011 at 3:19 PM

This is bittersweet for me, Keith. I lived in Scotland in 2003 and forever dream about relocating permanently. (The likeliness of that happening given my job and my family is zero to none.) But I love reading about it and seeing pictures and can’t wait for my next trip back, whenever that may be…

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 17, 2011 at 7:57 PM

With all the traveling you do you should be able to make it happen! It’s such a great country!

AaronNo Gravatar February 17, 2011 at 3:46 AM

I’d like to visit Scotland. So much green grass and plenty of culture, I am sure. I like the photos 😀

Aaron

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 17, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Thanks Aaron, my wife and I took these – mostly Sarah 🙂

AliceNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Looks like Scotland is a good place to spend a honeymoon, looks like a fairy tale land=)

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 17, 2011 at 9:50 AM

It does, doesn’t it? Feels that way too.

Pam StuckyNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Great list. I completely agree about the Orkney Islands! Far too often overlooked. I also loved the Isle of Staffa and its hexagonal columns – much like the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. We got just into the edge of the northwest area, and the drives were breathtaking (literally at some points – some very narrow roads with steep dropoffs!). And while I know many think of Glasgow as industrial and gritty (which it is), but the people are fabulous, the parks are beautiful, and the architecture is spectacular. Thanks for a great post!

Pam StuckyNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Whoops, realized my post was confusing. My comment about the Isle of Staffa and my comment about the northwest area are two different areas. Not the northwest area of Staffa; the northwest area of Scotland.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 10:40 AM

Hi Pam, thanks for the recommendations. I’m quite looking forward to seeing Scotland’s northwest highlands. Orkney was kind of life-changing for me – I never imagined a predominantly tree-less place could be so alien and beautiful.

Matt | YearAroundTheWorldNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 9:42 AM

This is one in-depth guide on planning a trip to Scotland! I know where to go now when I decide to visit.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 10:39 AM

Hey Matt, be sure to check back the next few Mondays for additional segments in this series.

TravisNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 2:02 AM

A great overview of Scotland, I didn’t know so much about the islands that dot around the coast. But it sounds very interesting, also good to know where a bunch of the castles are located for future travels.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 8:33 AM

Castles can be found throughout Scotland, but they are heavily concentrated to the northeast of the Cairngorms.

MarkNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 5:15 PM

My favourite parts of Scotland include Torridon, Plockton and the whole of the North West Highlands (from Plockton/Applecross northwards but especially the part north of Ullapool. Also the Isles of Eigg and Rum and the Knoydart peninusula. Skye, Orkney and Edinburgh should also be at the top of anyones places to see list though.
Some eyecandy here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marksouthgate/galleries/72157622521352375/

@Christy @ Technosyncratic – enjoy Edinburgh – are you there for the festivals in August? If you want to meet up with some locals during your stay, then try Meetup.com or couchsurfing: http://www.couchsurfing.org/group.html?gid=1251

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Wow, those pictures are incredible! What is it about the northwest that you like so much, Mark? I’m really curious to know since I’m tentatively planning a trip in that direction for next year.

I’d love to meet up with folks while I’m in Edinburgh next month.

MarkNo Gravatar February 16, 2011 at 10:46 AM

The combination of mountains, sea and sky. 🙂 Unspoilt and wild. The “mountains” are not very high but they have weird and wonderful shapes and the way they rise up from the surroundings makes them appear bigger than they really are.
For example, mountains like:
Suilven: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=suilven&w=all&m=&s=int
http://www.flickr.com/photos/freeskiing/3192914942/lightbox/
Stac Pollaidh: http://www.flickr.com/search/?s=int&w=all&q=stac+pollaidh
and An Teallach: http://www.flickr.com/photos/louisebellin/4245276054/

Some nice coastline up that way too, particularly Sandwood Bay and Achmelvich: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41287122@N02/4005832135/

GrayNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Oh, this is great, Keith! I’ve never really studied up on Scotland, so it’s nice having you to introduce me to it via your website. Edinburgh definitely sounds like my kind of city.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 7:20 PM

I think you’d enjoy it, definitely. Glad to help, Gray, and I hope I can get you to start making plans for Scotland!

Christy @ TechnosyncraticNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 10:34 AM

We’re planning to travel around the UK for our next adventure and have just decided to stay in Edinburgh for 1-2 months this summer and take a bunch of smaller trips around Scotland from there. The information you’ve been posting has been so helpful — you’re pretty much doing all our research for us, lol. 😛

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 10:54 AM

You will have an awesome time for 1-2 months in Edinburgh! I’m so glad this series is helping you guys get a handle on the planning. Just let me know if you have any questions.

andiNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 8:55 AM

Wow, this is one impressive guide you’ve created!!!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 10:51 AM

Time for a return trip, Andi. 🙂

islandmommaNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 2:49 AM

Wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed reading this! I come from the North West of England, so trips to Scotland, at one time, were quite frequent for me. That said, reading your blog I realize that even now I have only seen about half the country, and I’ve always said that if I ever return to live in the UK, Scotland would be the place I would choose to live. Now I have a strong urge to go. I planned a trip last year, but it fell through for a couple of reasons. Must make sure it happens this year!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 8:37 AM

Glad to hear you’re planning a return to Scotland. What parts have you missed?

islandmommaNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 4:16 PM

The far north, the islands and the west coast. I used to know the Borders quite well, and also Edinburgh and Perthshire. I lived in north west England, so drove up as far as Stirling and then usually crossed over to the east. Also, once had a magical New Years in Nairn, near Inverness, where I walked to the end of a rainbow – no pot of gold, but it did feel special and wonderful in crisp and virgin, knee-deep snow. Scotland is wonderful at absolutely any time of year. I used to have friends who lived in Perth, and it strikes me that it was a good place to have as a base and travel around. I don’t know if it’s changed, but it was very easy to get in and out of, and seemed handy for almost everywhere.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 15, 2011 at 7:23 PM

I haven’t been to Perth yet (we always seem to scoot around it), but I have stayed in Dunkeld and Pitlochry and I agree that they’re nice and central for much of the country.

KenNo Gravatar February 14, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Another post that makes me long to return to Scotland. So much yet to see. I totally agree with your remarks about the western highlands. My mouth was hanging open in awe the whole time I was there. Luckily, the flies were not at their peak then.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 14, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Scotland is a feast for the senses, and the western highlands were tailor-made for indulging the sense of sight.

PhilNo Gravatar February 14, 2011 at 2:49 PM

I have yet to travel to Scotland, so I can’t comment on your suggestions, but they all sound great, and this comes across as a very thorough planning guide. Now to figure out how to get Scotland in my life sometime soon. B well, Phil

Keith SavageNo Gravatar February 14, 2011 at 7:03 PM

It’s easy, Phil, so easy to get to Scotland. Let me know if you need any help planning! 🙂

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