Scottish Highlands Road Trip: Loch Ness & Isle of Skye

We had long wanted to visit Scotland, so when we had a chance to do so this year, our itinerary was packed! During our adventure to the Scottish Highlands, we saw Bow Fiddle Rock & Cullen, stopped by Inverness, enjoyed Loch Ness and fell in love with the Isle of Skye, considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the world! While driving back to Aberdeen airport, we also got a glimpse of Cairngorms National Park.

You will like Scotland if you:

  • Enjoy seeing nature and hiking 
  • Love castles
  • Are a whiskey fan
  • Like all things culture – museums, history, unique dishes and art
  • Roadtrip all the way – the traffic seems to be very calm and organized, you just have to get used to driving on the left side of the road!

What not to miss on Skye, Scotland

We spent 4 days and 4 nights in Scotland and our trip was sponsored by Estravel Latvia for hotels, Seesam for gold travel insurance, airBaltic for flights in business class.  Our informational sponsor was the largest Latvian newssite DELFI travel section Tūrismagids.

Plannings & Tips

You can visit Scotland on your own, as a couple, do a family trip or even take an organized tour, it’s very safe and has options for everyone! It can get busy, especially on the Isle of Skye during summer (and still in September), nearly every hotel, B&B and corner will have a sign “no vacancy”. Some tips you might find useful:

  • Book hotels well ahead, don’t rely on finding a place once you are there!
  • Campervans is another option, just be mindful of the roads – those are very narrow on Skye, often with just one lane for both directions and passing places every dozen meters.
  • Plan from 7.50 to 9 pounds per person for entrance fees and around 15 pounds per meal, if eating in a restaurant. Many places close kitchen at 9pm and get very busy in the evenings. Most restaurants and shops accept credit card.
  • Pack a warm coat and waterproof shoes – it rarely gets warmer than 18°C, in September it was closer to 12°C, and it rains all the time. No wonder there have been poems written about Scottish rain!
  • There aren’t too many bathrooms on the road, near hiking spots and there are no instructions or maps at the trails. Check Walking Highlands in advance!
  • The mobile network didn’t work most of the time, so plan everything in advance, as you might not be able to check on the spot.

Campervans and driving conditions in Scotland

The Day of the Flight

At the Airport & in Air

Since we had the luxury of flying business, we used it to the fullest, first going to the Primeclass Lounge in the Riga airport, enjoying a good breakfast. Once we boarded the plane, the air hostess immediately offered us a drink and asked what time would be like to eat. We had ordered a special meal, the so called NLML or non-lactose meal. Good not just for those who don’t feel well after consuming milk products but also for those who prefer simpler food without any creams or sauces! The second dish was very tasty chicken, beans, potato, and for dessert we got some fruit.

Aberdeen from air

Landing in Aberdeen

Very soon we landed in Aberdeen airport, which seemed to be very quiet and peaceful. Many Latvians live in Scotland, but a testament to just how many, was the greeting we got from the Scottish customs agent, he asked us if we were coming home. We did met a few Latvians along the way too!Upon exiting the airport, we went straight to the car rental. There was no line and document check took just a few minutes. We got a slightly bigger car than we had booked (Vauxhall Mokka X) and it was very new too, just 1000 miles under it’s belt. We had pre-booked an automatic car not to have to worry about shifting gears while driving on the left. The car cost us 209 euros for 4 days, deposit was 340 euros and we had made the booking for Enterprise via Autoeurope, as it was quite last minute, you may get a better price reserving in advance. Some of the local car rentals offered cheaper prices but with a deposit of 1700 euros. Just in case we also has additional excess insurance with ICarHireInsurance.

How to drive and rent a car in United Kingdom

Day 1 – 220 km

Aberdeen Airport – Cullen – Bow Fiddle Rock – Elgin – Inverness  – Loch Ness Lake

Once we were out of Aberdeen, we took a scenic road along beautiful fields and meadows. Soon we reached Cullen, a small town at the coast. Freshly cut grass seemed unreal green color and we decided to stop for a little while to check out the beautiful houses and viaduct.

Summer vacation in Scotland

The place town is charming – peaceful, no people (only 1.5 thousand live here permanently) and the small antique stores have beautiful displays. We were surprised to see a small cafe on the main street bustling with people on a Tuesday morning! Most of the houses at the shore seemed empty in autumn, but it looks like a lovely place for summer vacation!

Top sights in Scotland

Next we were headed to the Bow Fiddle Rock, an arch-shaped rock in the sea named after it’s shape. The scenery was stunning! Violet-brown heather covering the cliffs, little streams and just a few people around.  Know that parking lot is tiny and be mindful of the cliffs if visiting with smaller children.

Christian worship places of UK

After a few hours of enthusiastic picture talking and walking around, we drove to Elgin Cathedral. It was built in 1224 but massively suffered through ages, lost it’s roof in the 16th century and since then just the ruins remain. It is beautiful though, you can climb up the tower, see the exhibit inside and walk the grounds. The entrance fee is a bit price – 7.50 pounds.

Military forts of Europe

When we reached our next stop, Fort George near Inverness, one of the most impressive forts in Europe, we were just 5 minutes late, as last entrance during the summer is at 16:45, but the guard let us walk over the bridge and peek inside anyway. The rules of entrance are so strict because of the military personnel living on the grounds. If you are on time and go in as a regular visitor, entrance costs 9 pounds.

Inverness top sunset places

With sunset we reached Inverness, Scorguie area of the city and walked a bit around the locks, picking dewberries and eating them on the spot. Scorguie at waterfront is lovely for evening walks! Inverness also would have deserved a whole day to be explored, but this time we did not have enough time. 

Sleeping: Loch Ness Clansmann Hotel at the lake,  110 euros per room per night, with breakfast.

Day 2 – 280 km

Loch Ness – Urquhart Castle – Eilean Donan Castle – Isle of Skye – Kilt Rock – Dinosaur footprints

Loch Ness castles

We decided to see the sunrise at the Urquhart castle ruins at the lake. Loch Ness was calm as a mirror, first yellow leaves on the trees around it. The sun almost escaped the thick clouds only to hide further in it. The day before we got lucky with the weather, but now the day promised to be rainy.  Around sunrise nature started waking up, we saw deer roaming the castle grounds. While were taking pictures, a small bird suddenly flied up to Jekabs and caught on his jacket, observing all of us for a little while! First time something like this happened to us, Jekabs didn’t even notice the bird, how tiny it was!

Soon the ground keeper arrived and started preparing the property for a day of visitors (we were in the parking lot, observing the castle from the top).  Next item on the agenda was having some good British breakfast – black pudding, egg, sausages, beans and very strong black tea (no surprise you must add milk to it!)!

Cruises Loch Ness Monster Jacobite

When we were finished with the breakfast, hotel parking lot was completely transformed. Full of large buses, Chinese and Russian language all around us, people getting ready to take one of the lake cruises at the dock nearby.

Our next stop was the beautiful little town of Drumnadrochit, then continuing to drive further and seeing forests and streams along the road. Soon scenery changed completely. Towering mountains around us, covered in mossy green and hiding in clouds, just a rare tree in sight. We felt like stopping at every turn, how beautiful it was!

James Bond the world is not enoughMost beautiful castles of Scotland

Unfortunately, the weather is getting worse by the minute, and when we reached Eilean Donan Castle, the same one seen in 1999 James Bond “The World is not Enough”, it was pouring. That’s why after a few minutes walking around in rain, we decided to get some tea and cookies at the souvenir shop! Note, that parking at the castle is free. Be sure to leave your backpacks in the car. Entrance will set you back 7.50 pounds. The best view of the castle is driving right past it, crossing the bridge and then parking on the left.

As we drove further, we reached the Skye Bridge. We saw much whiter clouds in the distance and bright blue water underneath our feet. Despite the cloudy day, the scenery was breathtaking!

Read more on the blog on how to get to Isle of Skye via Skye Bridge!

We spent thirty minutes at the bridge and this set a trend, on the island we felt like stopping everywhere! Mountains, waterfalls, charming houses, the washed out seagrass and sheep! It’s best to have at least three days on the island, to spend one day for each of the main areas, but I can understand why some people spend weeks here! 

We soon realize that with not even full three days it won’t be enough time to head to Old Man of Storr for a hike, so we decided to just drive and enjoy the view.  Stopping here and there, beautiful waterfalls just at the side of the road, then a stunning stone bridge at Sligchan where we spend good 15 minutes taking pictures despite the rain.

Not ordinary sights of Scotland

Top Scottish highlands sights

Our next stop was Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. From one viewing point you can see the 55 m tall waterfall and 90 m rock that takes it’s name, not surprisingly, from the Scottish kilt. It was very windy here, so suddenly I was no longer concerned how wearing a dawn coat, gloves and hat looked like in September, as long as it was warm!

Farming of Scotland

After the waterfall we drove to see the dinosaur footprints in the stones at the shore, here for millions of years. Unfortunately, those were covered by water because of the tide, so we drove further, looking for a sunset spot, just in case the sun makes an appearance. And it did! We saw skeleton-shaped islands in the distance, Duntulum castle ruins just next to us and listened to sheep walking by.

Duntulum castle sunset

It started to rain again soon and we drove back to the other side of the island, seeing just lone rabbits crossing the road. A stop in Portree for our dinner (parking the car on the main square, free in the evening), and a real local meal at Antlers Bar & Grill! I get Scottish haggis, neeps & tatties (turnips, potatoes and “insides of a sheep”, how waitress calls it), you can also get British fish & chips.

Best food of Scotland

Sleeping: Dunollie Hotel, Isle of Skye, 118 euros per room per night with breakfast

Day 3 – 280 km

Fairy Pools  – Portree – Quiarang – Fairy Glen – Neist Point lighthouse

On the next morning the forecast promised good weather but it was all cloudy, so we slowly started getting ready. We had a hearty breakfast and observed the hordes of other tourists, a few large bus tours staying overnight, so it really was full season still in autumn!

Scottish sights Visit Scotland

Right once we started driving, the weather suddenly improved and we had to stop on every corner all over again, as the scenery looked completely different! The stunning Sligchan bridge was now full of people, and we quickly drive to our first stop – Fairy Pools. Fairy Pools is just one of the waterfalls in a long, long series or waterfalls. Casually walking and stopping to take pictures takes about an hour to get to the main one, famous for it’s transparent water and beautiful stones underneath. Some people even swim in it!

The stunning Fairy Pools is one of the best hiking destinations in Scotland, seeing transparent water and enjoying the wilderness is a must do!

It’s very touristy here, we got lucky to grab a parking spot, as most parked on the side of the road! There are a lot of bugs too, especially near the water, so even in autumn bug spray is useful. I can’t imagine how crowded this place must be in summer!

Scotland Heritage

Next we drove through Portree to take a quick picture of the little colorful houses, buy some stamps and drive further to Quiarang for a hike. Quiarang is famed as the most beautiful place on Isle of Skye. Actually, even if you just drive up to the upper parking lot and walk a few dozen meters, you will see the most of it! We decided to walk a bit further, so we could see the sea.

Bets hikes of skye

Hiiking here you have to be careful not to fall down in some places, and the hike is not suitable for small children, as you have to cross some streams and very narrow passing places. The further you go, the quieter it gets, soon it will be just you, sheep and rabbits!

Our next stop was Fairy Glen, supposedly so beautiful valley that fairies could live here. Some people have made out a spiral from the stones and we see a photoshoot at the road too. Visiting Fairy Glen was disappointing and we thought this place was not worth the hype at all, and could have been easily skipped. It’s a pity we didn’t skip it, as the twenty minutes we lost exploring it would have been better spent at Neist Point!

Whale watching spots Scotland

Although we were on time for sunset, the clouds covered the horizon and once we arrived, everyone was already leaving, as it had gotten very windy and very, very cold, the horizon covered in clouds. It was incredibly beautiful still, with dark cliffs around and the lighthouse at the tip of the rocks. As it is dark here, this is one of the best places in Scotland for seeing the Milky Way and northern lights!

This evening we hoped to get a meal on the way, but turned out that the only place nearby was full and once we reached Sligchan, kitchen had already closed. We barely made it back to the petrol station snack shop near the hotel, with just 5 minutes to spare! 

Sleeping: Dunollie Hotel, Isle of Skye, 118 euros per room per night with breakfast

Day 4 – 380 km

Elgol (Loch Coruisk) – Cairngorms National Park – Balmoral

Boat tours to Loch Coruisk

On the last full day on the trip it was cloudy again. Not just cloudy, windy and really unpleasant, and while we drove to Elgol, it started to rain. We head to the little port to take a boat to Loch Coruisk, supposedly also one of the most beautiful places on Isle of Skye. Just hiking takes too long, so boat trip is opportunity to get there quicker. But once we arrived to Elgol, we learned that the sea is too rough and no boats would be going anywhere that day. So we just stayed for a little while, observing the beautiful sea and blue hills in the distance, cows eating seaweed.

Animals of Scotland

Visit Scotland

As the weather is really bad, we head back to Aberdeen. We stop at a charming restaurant near the Loch Ness – Oakwood, eating more local food and to make the trip more interesting, we decide to pass through Cairngorms National Park (the largest in the United Kingdom!), and a good decision it is! We see fields of heather, steep hills, skiing track, stunning scenery all around! Passing by Balmoral castle we realized why there was a guard at the entrance – the royal family was there! Turns out, you can only visit few days a month and only when the family is not there, so be sure to check online!

largest nature parks United Kingdom

After seeing the national park and beautiful valley, we head to the hotel, which is just 5 minutes walking distance to the airport. The lady at check in turned out to be Latvian! Then we decided to return the car a bit early to be able to sleep in a bit in the morning. Last stop at the petrol station, some problems with the credit card, and when asking for help, the guy in the nearby car also turns out to be Latvian! Latvianas really must be everywhere!

Sleeping: Aberdeen Holiday Inn Express, Aberdeen airport, 56 euros per room per night, with breakfast

Day 5

Going home

It was still quite let when we got back the previous night, so we didn’t get too much sleep, but could pass on the nice breakfast at hotel. Soon we are again at the airport, waiting in the lounge for boarding to begin. The long weekend passed so quickly! It was just a few days that we spent in Scotland, but there was so much more to be seen! 

Benefits of business class airBaltic

If you have more than just a long weekend, be sure to stop by the following places:

  • Puffins – you can take a boat tour form Skye to the nearby silands, best done between April and August!
  • Dolphin and whale (orca) tours, best seen from boats. Dolphins are there year rouns, whales are best seen from May til July, best spot on the island is Neist Point.
  • Whiskey distilleries – there are many of those in Scotland and they offer tours! As we had seen one in Northern Ireland, we decided to skip it this time.
  • Dunvegan castle and Coral beach – one of the most beautiful castles and beaches on Skye.
  • Old Man of Storr and Cuillin – there are a lot of beautiful places to hike and these would be must-do, if you have the time!
  • Loch Coruisk – either hike all the way or take a boat tour (hope for a better luck than we had!)
  • Northern Lights – there is little light pollution, so visibility should be great. Check aurora forecasts when visiting and you might see one too!

There are many, many places to see on the island. I now understand why someone wrote in one of the forums that they just came back from a repeat 6 (!) week trip to Skye and only now feel like they have seen most of it!

 

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31 comments

  1. I’ve been wanting to do a similar trip gmfor a couple of years now! Great tips and photos! Now I’m inspired to really go this summer!

    1. Fingers crossed for you! From what I am hearing, summers do get more crowded than off season travel in Scotland, but there is also more opportunity for whale and puffin watching 🙂

  2. Wow, you covered a LOT of ground in a very short time! And I love your photos too – you captured perfectly the beauty of the Scottish Highlands. I definitely need to go back! Interesting that there are so many Latvians in Scotland – any idea why that is?

    1. We were very motivated to see as much as possible! 🙂
      The Latvians are there because many emigrated from Latvia a few years back when the borders opened up, with EU and all that.

  3. Beautiful photos! I’ve only been to there once for a few days and have been wanting to go back even if my trip wasn’t finished (then) yet! I can imagine how one would feel the need for a 6-peat to properly explore the highlands! Reading through brings back some beautiful memories and future inspiration! It will always be one of my favorite places! Great post! 🙂

    1. Thank you! That is one of the goals of this blog, to inspire people to travel more, I am glad it is working out this way!

  4. This is just simply stunning! I live in North England and we are actually planning a trip to the Isle of Skye and it’s such a great timing to find your post. You were so lucky to have such a stunning weather in your pictures as it is cloudy and grey most of other times! We are definitely more keen now to go there.

  5. WOW guys! These photos are absolutely incredible! And you’ve reminded me that, as a Brit, I desperately need to explore more of my home country. I’ve still only managed Edinburgh so far in the UK. Thanks for sharing and reminding me of the beauty at home!

    1. Thank you! It means a lot to me that you enjoyed my post about your home country! I hope you get to Skye soon! 🙂

  6. Such great pictures and content – your hard work paid off! How lucky you were to have sunny days in Scotland haha! I haven’t been yet but I know I should asap! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Hapa! I did not think it was possible just a year ago, but careful planning, a lot of work and some months later here I am, blog post published, met wonderful people along the way and I have to start thinking about the next adventure!

    1. Wow, living in Scotland! I am sure it will be amazing! Keeping my fingers crossed it works out for you! 🙂

  7. This video made me miss Scotland so much! It is, without a doubt, the most photogenic place on the planet and I’m forever trying to get back there for yet another visit (I used to live there and have visited so many times but it’s never enough). Thanks for a trip down memory lane!

  8. You added a lot of elements we love here: road trips, Scotland, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye! We’re considering the same road trip you did and from your pictures I must say I’m missing out! When do you think the weather is decent enough?

    1. Dany, to be honest, from what I am hearing, the weather will never be perfect there 🙂 I can only suggest to have a few days in reserve (I know, noone of us has the time and resources to stay in every place long..). Before visiting I checked weather forecast for a month, every day, and it showed rain, EVERY DAY. I am surprised we saw any sun in September at all!

  9. Firstly, your photos are absolutely GORGEOUS! I visited the highlands quickly on a day trip from Edinburgh and I am dying to go back and do a proper road trip. Will save this post for my eventual trip!

  10. We say in scotland if you wait for good weather it will never happen! You just make the most of it. This is a fantastic blog, if you require any info for your visit get in touch iam happy to help.Very proud of my country

    1. Haha, Martin, that’s a good one about the weather 🙂 Totally agree, we did exactly that, if it rained, we pushed on through and saw as much as we could 🙂 Your country really is a beautiful one!

  11. Wow, your photos are so stunning! I’ve been to Scotland a couple of times but mostly to the cities and a quick visit to Lake Menteith. Heard so many people say how beautiful the highlands are and your photos definitely prove it. Just wow.

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