Best Things To Do In The Historic City Of Edinburgh, Scotland

Things To Do In Edinburgh

Best Things To Do in Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Home to scholars, authors, philosophers and murderers, Edinburgh is an ancient city like no other. Built at the base of a volcano, Scotland’s capital boasts a dark & twisted history.

Edinburgh has quickly become a vibrant hub of art, theatre, and creativity in recent years, with great festivals and events taking over the world stage.

On top of this, you can catch a glimpse of every century on every street in Edinburgh. It’s like walking into one of your favorite books.

From the Royal Mile to Arthur’s Seat, a stroll through the city will take you on a journey through time, showcasing the best of medieval architecture and into dark alleyways with dramatic stories of their own…

Edinburgh might seem small at first, but once you start to explore, you’ll quickly realize just how many cool things there are to do here!

I’ve traveled to Edinburgh multiple times now, and it’s become one of my favorite international cities.

Best Things To Do In Edinburgh

Visit Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Overlooking the entire city, the world-famous Edinburgh Castle is the most iconic historic site in Scotland.

With parts of this magnificent building dating back to the 12th century, it’s clear to see why it was voted as the top UK Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards and is Scotland’s number one paid-for tourist attraction.

Not only can you take a guided or audio tour of the castle and it’s dramatic history, but you can also visit the National War Museum where you will discover 400 years of Scotland at war through personal accounts, military artifacts, and treasured collections.

On top of that, the castle is also home to the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, so get ready to lose track of time in this historic wonderland!

Walk The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile

Edinburgh’s most famous street

When you’ve finished admiring the history and grandeur of Edinburgh Castle, head on down the street and walk the Royal Mile.

The Royal Mile is considered the historic heart of Edinburgh. A cobblestoned street lined with ancient taverns, cathedrals, parliament, shops, and the dark narrow alleyways that helped inspire Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous book The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.

The route connects two royal residences Edinburgh Castle and the palace of Holyrood House, with tons of interesting things to do and see along the way.

Buy yourself a traditional Scottish kilt, or stop into the Scotch Whisky Experience to learn about (and taste of course!) a wide variety of flavors from different parts of the country.

My personal favorite is Laphroaig, a single-malt peaty flavored whisky from Islay.

Eat Some Sheep Guts!

Things To Do In Edinburgh: Haggis

Scottish Haggis – Don’t knock it until you try it

Haggis is a savory pudding of Scottish origin, containing sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach. Still feeling hungry?

The traditional way to eat this classic Scottish dish is with sides of “neeps & tatties” (turnips and potatoes).

In other parts of Scotland, you’ll find traditional ‘salt & vinegar’ when you walk into a local takeaway, but Edinburgh locals choose to go down the ‘salt & sauce’ route. Nobody really knows what flavor the sauce is, but apparently, you can’t go for fish and chips without it!

Last but not least, Deep Fried Mars Bars. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and once you’ve tried it I am sure you will happily knock that one off your bucket list and never feel the need to do it again…

Ghost Hunting In Graveyards

Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Visiting George MacKenzie at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

If only the dead could talk. Well in Greyfriars Kirkyard Cemetery they not only talk to you, but will also bite, kick, and strangle you!

Regarded as one of the most haunted places in the world, Greyfriars holds about 400,000 corpses piled into the shape of a hill overlooking the city.

It’s literally a mountain of bodies, and many of these people did not die well… some weren’t even dead yet when they were buried here!

George MacKenzie is the most famous and “active” resident, nicknamed the MacKenzie Poltergeist. He’s been known to cause bruises, burns, scratches, and even broken bones on his living victims!

There have been 450 documented attacks — it’s a ghost hunter’s paradise.

Another notorious cemetery is Canongate Graveyard, where you’ll find the resting place of some of the city’s most famous figures, including David Rizzio, the lover of Mary Queen of Scots. Or even James Douglas, 3rd Marquess of Queensberry – the infamous Cannibal of the Canongate.

Celebrate At Hogmanay

Hogmanay Edinburgh

3 days of New Year celebrations!

The Scottish certainly know how to throw a party, so there is no better place to ring in the new year. Forget about new years eve, the Hogmanay celebrations take over the city for 3 full days of spectacular events, great music and amazing crowds from every corner of the globe.

Grab a firelit torch and join in with the thousands of annual marchers who take to the streets or marvel over the incredible fireworks and live music at Edinburgh Castle.

The famous procession is led by a burly squad of Shetland Up Helly Aa’ Vikings wielding flaming sticks. Behind them, 8,500 others carry torches made from burlap & beeswax. It’s quite a show!

And if you feel the need to re-energize after the madness? Spend the first day of the new year leaping into the freezing waters of the River Forth for the Loony Dook! It’s a bit crazy, but tons of fun.

The Fringe Festival

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Street Performers take over Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Edinburgh is known internationally as the Festival City, with 11 major events taking place throughout the year. Five of these events take place in the month of August, transforming the city into one big street party!

One of the most famous of them all is the Fringe Festival – The world’s largest arts festival which attracts thousands of performers to take to hundreds of stages all over the city.

This year there were over 3,548 shows taking place in 317 venues throughout the city, so you may find it a little difficult to figure out where to begin. I would recommend starting your Fringe adventure at the Pleasance.

Free Harry Potter Walking Tour

Harry Potter Walking Tour Edinburgh

Are you a wizard or a muggle?

There are normal Edinburgh walking tours if you are interested in learning about the city, but if you want to learn more about a specific character… Harry Potter to be exact, then where better than the birthplace of this world-famous book!

The Potter Trail will give you your own wand when you join your robed guide on a journey to discover the magical locations that inspired many characters and scenes.

Not only will you catch a glimpse of where JK Rowling wrote the books, but you’ll also see where Lord Voldemort is buried, take a trip down Diagon Alley, and have a chance to be sorted outside the school which inspired Hogwarts.

The best part about this tour is that it’s completely free of charge!

Hike Calton Hill

Cool Things to do in Edinburgh

Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill

If you’re a photographer looking for a great view of the city, this is my favorite spot for sunrise in Edinburgh if you’re lucky with clear skies!

Located just past the East end of Prince’s Street, Calton Hill is home to many monuments like the National Monument Of Scotland, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, and the City Observatory.

The Scottish Government itself is located at the base of the hill at St. Andrew’s House. The hill is also used for special events throughout the year, like the Beltane Fire Festival held on April 30th.

Just know the hill has a reputation for seedy characters and the occasional crime. So I’d recommend visiting with more than one person, and not late at night!

The Royal Military Tattoo

Royal Military Tattoo

Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh’s Royal Military Tattoo attracts more than 1,200 performers from over 48 countries, so you can be sure to expect a world-renowned experience like no other.

Showcasing the talents of military bands and performers from every corner of the globe, the Tattoo has been televised in more than 40 countries, with an annual television audience of over 100 million viewers.

These incredible performances happen every weekday evening and twice on Saturdays throughout August.

The whole thing is set in one of the most incredible venues of all time, Edinburgh Castle, so nothing beats watching it in person! Tickets sell out fast, so I’d recommend booking them in advance before your trip.

Explore Creepy Underground Vaults

Edinburgh’s Underground Tunnels

Edinburgh’s Spooky Tunnels: Would You Visit?

Edinburgh is well known for its dark and twisted past — home to some of the most haunted places in the world. The narrow streets of the city’s old town provide the perfect setting for stories of cannibals, body snatchers, and ghosts.

But what lies below is even more terrifying! Beneath the streets of Edinburgh lies a maze of creepy underground tunnels and vaults that were once used for untold horrors — robberies, torture and murder.

The vaults were once a haven for the poorest of Edinburgh’s citizens, as well as a hideout for criminals.

After getting closed off with rubble to deter their use, some of these long-forgotten secret passageways were excavated and opened for spooky underground tours.

Climb The Scott Monument

Scott Monument Edinburgh

The higher you climb, the better the views

The iconic Scott Monument is among the largest monuments to a writer anywhere in the world and is undoubtedly one of the first things you will see on your arrival in Edinburgh.

Standing tall in the center of the city, the monument was created after the death of Sir Walter Scott in 1832.

Make sure to bring your camera, because each of the 4 floors gives you incredible panoramic views over Edinburgh, only getting better with each stair that you climb.

Delve into the history of Scott, one of Edinburgh’s finest writers, in the monument’s Museum Room on the first floor, or in The Writers’ Museum nearby, which is free from Wednesday to Sunday.

Visit Camera Obscura

Things to do in Edinburgh: Camera Obscura

Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura on the Royal Mile

Waiting in line outside Camera Obscura you’ll find excited children ready to dive into an array of illusions, tricks, and puzzles.

But you’ll also find a bunch of over-excited, fully grown photographers who come for the Camera Obscura itself, a Victorian invention that eventually led to the modern camera.

In 1850s Edinburgh, cinema hadn’t been invented yet, but the locals were left speechless by Maria Short and her life-like moving pictures of the city.

A lot has changed since then, but the team at Camera Obscura are still collaborating with artists, inventors, and technical wizards, to bring you even further into their world of wonder and delight.

Catch A Show At Bedlam Theatre

Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh

Neo-gothic Bedlam Theatre

Scotland’s Bedlam Theatre building houses the oldest student-run theater in Britain. It was named after the Bedlam Mental Institute that used to be nearby.

Once the New North Free Church built in 1849, it was eventually given to Edinburgh University who turned it into a fun 90 seat student theater to perform plays and improv comedy.

If you’d like a little dose of local Scottish comedy while you’re visiting, this is the place to be. When Edinburgh University is in session, you can catch The Improverts every Friday night at 10:30pm.

Go Skiing Or Snowboarding?!

Things to do in Edinburgh: Snowsports Centre

Get your adrenaline pumping!

If you are looking for something a little more adventurous to get your adrenaline pumping, hop on a bus out to the Midlothian Snowsports Centre, set on the hillside of Pentland Hills Regional Park.

As Britain’s biggest artificial ski slope, they’ve got something for everyone, with 2 main slopes, 3 beginner slopes, and freestyle features.

If you’ve never skied before, but are up for the challenge, start with some lessons and work your way up to the main slopes. You can always just ride the chairlift up too for the spectacular views or walk across the Pentland Hills.

Scottish National Galleries

Scottish National Galleries

The perfect location for a rainy day in Edinburgh

Located in the heart of Edinburgh, the Scottish National Galleries are home to some of the best collections of fine and modern art in the world, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh, amongst many others.

If that wasn’t enough, the galleries themselves are some of Scotland’s most beautiful buildings, with neoclassical architecture dating back to the 1820’s.

The Scottish National Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art and the Portrait Gallery are the perfect locations to get lost in on a rainy day in Edinburgh, with endless art collections, exhibitions, and events taking place every week.

Unwind In A Famous Bookshop

Find Some Bookstores

Edinburgh has Inspired Many Writers

Edinburgh is home to some of the most famous authors of all time, so it’s no surprise that the city became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature back in 2004.

With Edinburgh Castle as the backdrop, it’s clear to see how storytellers such as J.K Rowling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Iain Banks found inspiration in this historical city.

Head down to the famous Armchair Books or ‘McNaughtan’s Bookshop & Gallery’, grab a book, find a quiet corner, a comfy couch and you are set for a day of delving into the minds and imaginations of Edinburgh’s finest authors.

Cycle From City To Sea

Things to do in Edinburgh: Rent bikes

Cycle through Edinburgh’s best neighbourhoods

Although Edinburgh is known for its dramatic landscape and incredible architecture, you’ll find some of the most breathtaking views as you wander beyond the city boundaries.

Pick up a rental bike in the city center and make your way through Stockbridge and Leith, down the course of the Union Canal river.

You’ll get to experience the Scottish scenery many tourists miss out on during their time in Edinburgh.

Make sure to stop off in one of the many towns along the way such as the ancient Dean Village, and warm up with a nice cup of coffee, before hitting the fresh seaside breeze.

Hike Up Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat Edinburgh

Hike on a former active volcano

This historic city is also a fitness junkie’s dream, with mountains, forests, seaside escapes and former active volcanoes on its doorstep. Just minutes away from Edinburgh city center, is the famous Arthur’s Seat.

As you climb to the top, the basalt rock below your feet is a constant reminder that this incredible hill was once overflowing with lava more than 350 million years ago.

At a height of 251 meters, Arthur’s Seat looks out over the city, providing some of the best views of the Castle and the Old and New Towns.

It is a moderate hike, with different routes depending on the level of difficulty you want, so even if you don’t have a lot of experience, it’s definitely worth the trek. If you plan your climb for a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the highlands in Northern Scotland.

Royal Yacht Britannia

Royal Yacht Britannia

The former floating residence to the Queen

Once you have explored the city center, it’s time to delve into some of the incredible local neighborhoods! Ask any of the locals and they will point you in the direction of Leith, Edinburgh’s creative, diverse and buzzing waterfront town.

It is believed that this hotspot is home to some of the best culinary experiences in Scotland, and is renowned for its traditional pubs, seafood bistros, galleries, and thrift shops.

While you’re there, take a walk along the riverside and you will discover the award-winning Royal Yacht Britannia – the former floating residence to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, which has sailed over 1,000,000 miles around the world.

Pink Flowers At The Meadows

The Meadows of Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Famous Student Hotspot

Located beside Edinburgh University’s central campus, The Meadows are famous among the locals for being the go-to spot to relax and unwind within the hustle and bustle of the city center.

On a warm spring or summer’s day, this large green space is filled with students, families and tourists all soaking in the beauty of pink cherry blossoms as they come into bloom.

Soon after, the pink petals begin to fall and scatter themselves like a blanket covering the Meadows.

If you’re planning your trip to Edinburgh later in the year, autumn is just as beautiful as the green leaves that line the avenues transform into many different shades of red as they prepare for the winter snow.

Grab A Slice In Civerinos

Civerinos Edinburgh

Possibly the best pizza in Scotland!

Just a stone’s throw from The Meadows, you will find a little pizza joint with a big crowd. Civerinos seems to be everyone’s favorite ‘neighbourhood pizza bar’.

They sell by the slice, but if you’re really feeling like you want to leave in a food coma, you can try 5 different varieties and get the 6th slice for free.

My personal recommendation would be the classic Civerinos Slice or the Menace to Society, but they are always adding new additions to the menu so you never know what to expect!

Where To Stay In Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh is a small city, there is a wide variety of accommodation available at all price points. Here are some suggestions for where to stay while you’re in town:

BUDGET
Edinburgh Hostel
West End Hostel
Clean rooms, good breakfast and easy to walk to everything.

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

MID-RANGE
Edinburgh Mid-Range Hotel
Motel One Edinburgh-Royal
Large rooms, comfortable beds and friendly staff. Great location.

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

MID-RANGE
Edinburgh Mid-Range Hotel
Jurys Inn Edinburgh
Super comfortable hotel in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

LUXURY
Edinburgh Luxury Hotel
Principal Charlotte Square
Luxurious interiors and excellent food in city centre location.

Check prices & availability:
Booking.com / TripAdvisor.com

Edinburgh Travel Tips & Advice

  • Make sure to have the exact coins ready for your Edinburgh bus trip, as they do not give you change. Unlike some of the other transportation methods, you can’t pay by bank card or smartphone.
  • The best time to visit Edinburgh for sunshine is between May and August, with warmer temperatures and tons of festivals (especially August for festivals). If you visit during December and January, the city is much quieter and you might get to experience some winter snow.
  • Scottish pounds are slightly different to the English version, so be aware that you may have difficulty using Scottish pounds as currency in other parts of the United Kingdom.
  • Edinburgh Airport is about 35 minutes away from the city center. The easiest way to get into the city is by using the airport Bus (Fare: Single £4.50, return £7.50) or the tram line (single £6.00, return £8.50). They both depart for the city every 10 – 15 minutes.

Bonus Travel Video! Exploring Spooky Edinburgh

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Spooky Streets of Edinburgh on YouTube)

USEFUL TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR EDINBURGH
Plan Your Trip: VisitScotland.com & Edinburgh.org
Skyscanner.net – My favorite place to book cheap airline flights
RentalCars.com – Great site for comparing car rental prices
Booking.com – Book affordable accommodation in Edinburgh
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Scotland
Suggested Reading: The Ghosts Of Edinburgh

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Great Things To Do In Edinburgh -- tips and ideas for your trip to Scotland! More at ExpertVagabond.com
Great Things To Do In Edinburgh -- tips and ideas for your trip to Scotland! More at ExpertVagabond.com

Any questions about things to do in Edinburgh? Do you have other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens

Scotland Highlands

Highlands, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands are just as beautiful as you’ve imagined. An incredible road trip destination that features rocky peaks and sweeping glens shrouded in mist.

The Scottish Highlands have been on my bucket list for years. After recently returning from a wonderful 4 day journey through the region of Lochaber and the West Highlands, I wanted to share my favorite highlights and tips to help you plan your own adventure.

Why should you visit the Highlands of Scotland?

Well, if you’re a fan of hiking majestic mountain ranges, floating mist-covered lochs, or exploring ancient forests, then you’ll love the Highlands.

They provide intrepid travelers with fantastic travel photography opportunities and a hearty dose of Scottish charm.

The Scottish Highlands are a playground for hikers, bikers, kayakers, and anyone who loves outdoor adventures. The area of Lochaber around Fort William is considered the outdoor adventure capital of the United Kingdom!

Highland Cow Scotland

Scottish Highlands Mountain

Exploring The Scottish Highlands

My Scottish Highlands road trip began in Glasgow after taking the train from Edinburgh. Driving up to Fort William from Glasgow along route A82 on my way to the Isle of Skye in early July.

The landscape was exceptionally green after weeks of rain.

Weather in Scotland is often cold, windy, and rainy — however don’t let that dissuade you, these conditions also produce some very dramatic scenery.

There’s tumultuous history here too… dark tales of epic clan battles and murderous plots. Mythical legends of lake monsters, fairies, and goblins.

In the Highlands, you never know what hidden treasures you’ll uncover while venturing off into the Scottish countryside. I certainly found plenty! The landscape can be harsh and unforgiving, but totally worth a trip.

Route A82 Scotland

Drover's Inn Scotland

Loch Lomond

My first stop on the drive from Glasgow into the Highlands was the town of Balloch on the banks of Loch Lomond. The area is part of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

It was raining pretty heavily, so we didn’t stick around too long, but I did walk aboard the Maid Of The Loch, a fantastic 60 year old paddle steamship currently undergoing renovation.

Further up the road, make sure to pop into the 300 year old (and some say haunted) Drovers Inn for traditional Scottish food or a dram of whisky (unless you’re driving of course).

This quirky historic stone lodge sits directly in front of a steep mountain waterfall. Stepping inside the building feels like stepping back in time…

Glen Etive Scotland

Foxglove Flowers Highlands

Driving Glen Etive

A winding single track lane passing into the narrow valley of Glen Etive will have any driving enthusiast grinning from ear to ear. It’s a wonderful little side trip off the beaten track when driving through the Scottish Highlands.

You’ve probably already seen Glen Etive before, but didn’t know it. The landscape was a filming location for the popular James Bond movie “Skyfall”, where James takes his iconic Aston Martin DB5 out for a drive.

The icy cold Etive River passes beside the road, and for the more adventurous, it’s a great place to go cliff jumping. Hiking or kayaking (with your own gear) around Loch Etive at the end of the road is another option.

Wild camping is popular in the glen, but PLEASE remember to leave no trace. It would be a shame to ruin such a beautiful landscape with trash from disrespectful campers…

Hiking in the Highlands

Wire Bridge Highlands

Hiking The Highlands

If you’re a hiker, the Scottish Highlands have trails for all levels. Lochaber is home to Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom’s highest mountain at 4,416 feet (1,346 meters). Munro bagging is a popular activity — summiting mountains over 3,000 feet.

For those who enjoy long distance treks, the West Highland Way stretches some 96 miles through the best of the Highlands and takes most hikers 5-7 days. You can carry everything with you, or hire a company to transport the bulk of your gear to guesthouses ahead of your arrival.

Countless shorter day hikes can be found in the area too.

One of my favorites was Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge, where the trail follows a mountain river funneling into a narrow rocky gorge. It ends in a huge meadow, with Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall dropping over 300 feet from the high mountains beyond.

Glencoe Mountains Scotland

Scottish Highlands House

Glen Coe

Widely considered one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom, the spectacular valley of Glen Coe has a haunted past as the site of a 17th-century massacre which saw 38 members of the MacDonald Clan hunted to death in the snow.

Another 40 women & children died of exposure when their homes were burned to the ground.

Yet the landscape is equally as haunting as its past. Driving around the towering peaks of the “Three Sisters” under foreboding clouds & drizzling rain, you can feel the weight of sadness on this place.

Pull off on the side of the road for photos, or spend an afternoon hiking a few of the trails. Further on is the village of Glencoe, where you can find lodges, cafes, or restaurants to help break up the drive.

Train in Scottish Highlands

Hogwart's Express Scotland

Jacobite Steam Train

Remember the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter? Well, that train really exists! The Jacobite Steam Train has been called the most scenic train journey in the world, and for good reason.

Starting in Fort William, this 84 mile journey takes passengers deep into the Highlands, ending at the small fishing village of Mallaig. Along the way it travels across old stone bridges, through misty mountain passes, and past deep freshwater lochs.

Tickets sell out fast, but if you’re driving nearby, you should stop at the lookout over Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the train passes around 11am and 3pm for wonderful photo opportunities!

Loch Ness Scotland

Urquhart Castle Highlands

Monster Spotting At Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a deep, cold, and very murky lake in the heart of the Scottish Highlands near the town of Inverness. For years locals and tourists have reported witnessing a large unidentified creature with a long neck swimming through the water.

A popular activity is sailing across Loch Ness to the ancient ruins of Urquart Castle, searching for the Loch Ness Monster (aka Nessie) along the way. I hit up Loch Ness while driving back from Skye to catch a train to Glasgow at the end of my journey.

Some people believe Nessie is a plesiosaur, a dinosaur who’s survived to modern times by living isolated from the sea within the loch.

What do you think? Is the Loch Ness Monster real?

Mountain Biking Highlands

Mountain Biking Nevis Range

Under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, lies the Nevis Range mountain bike trails. They have trails for all levels, from relaxing forrest routes to white-knuckle World Cup downhill tracks.

You can rent all sorts of different bikes and protective gear from £25 – £60 per day, and either cycle uphill through the cross country trails on your own, or ride the gondola lift up to the world-class downhill trails.

I spent the morning riding the “Witches Trails”, a fun mix of single track and wider trails that wind through the trees, with the occasional wooden boardwalk or ramp. A low mist had the forrest looking particularly eerie.

Scotland is home to quite a few professional mountain bikers, including Danny Macaskill, the star of an epic short YouTube film called “The Ridge” shot on the Isle of Skye. It will make your heart race!

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland

Episcopal Church Highlands

Ancient Castles & Cathedrals

It goes without saying that Scotland is overflowing with its share of magnificent castles. There are literally hundreds of them, both ruined and active residences.

Scotland’s castles were built as military fortifications, and there are plenty of epic battle stories or sensational legends to learn about once you visit them.

I had the chance to visit a few, like the incredibly picturesque Eilean Donan, the MacLeod family stronghold of Dunvegan in Skye, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness.

If you’re a fan of old stone churches too, make sure to stop by Glenfinnan Church, St. Andrews, and St. Johns of Ballachulish as you drive through the Highlands.

Hotels in Scotland Highlands

The Old Pines Hotel

Best Places To Stay

The unofficial capital of the Highlands is the town of Fort William. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can sell out fast so it’s very important to book your accommodation in advance!

We stayed at the beautiful Old Pines Hotel outside of Fort William in the village of Spean Bridge. But I’m a big fan of AirBnB too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Camping

Wild camping is allowed all over the Scottish Highlands, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. Remember to leave no trace! There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

Scottish Highlands Tips & Advice

Once you visit the Scottish Highlands, the area will remain etched in your memory long after you’ve returned home. Here are a few tips to consider before you arrive, to ensure you have a great trip.

Everyone thinks of Scotland and the UK as expensive places to visit. While that may have been the case a few years ago, right now the exchange rate is excellent if you’re American (thanks Brexit!).

Scotland is often wet. April – June are usually the driest and most sunny months of the year. But make sure to pack waterproof gear because weather can, and does, change very quickly year-round.

While the drive from Glasgow to Fort William only takes about 2.5 hours, you’ll want to set aside more time to explore the many hidden glens and fun hikes nearby! I’d recommend at least 3 days in the Highlands, if not more.

Don’t be afraid of the food! Yes it’s greasy, heavy, and often made of animal guts, but consider what they had to work with. I recommend trying some Haggis, Blood Sausage, and of course a Full Scottish Breakfast. ★

Watch Video: Scottish Highland Adventures

(Click to watch Highland Adventures – Scotland on YouTube)

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Have any questions about traveling in the Scottish Highlands? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Isle Of Skye Road Trip: Scotland’s Land Of Fairies

Isle of Skye Scotland

Isle of Skye Road Trip

Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Isle of Skye’s dramatic landscapes are some of the most scenic in Scotland. The best way to experience its epic mountains, waterfalls, and sea cliffs is on a road trip.

When most people think of visiting Scotland, Edinburgh and Loch Ness are the first spots that come to mind. While both are nice, I think a road trip up through the Highlands to the Isle of Skye is far better.

The scenery on Skye is rugged, breathtaking, and raw.

Free to explore at your own pace, you’ll be stopping around each bend of Skye’s notoriously narrow and winding country roads for one incredible photo opportunity after another!

I recently road-tripped around the Isle of Skye in Scotland to experience one of the United Kingdom’s most adventurous and scenic travel destinations for myself. It didn’t disappoint.

In this travel guide I’ll help you get the most from an Isle of Skye adventure.

Exploring The Isle Of Skye

If photography and exploring mountain landscapes is your thing, then you’ll love road tripping around the Isle of Skye. The area is steeped in myth and legend — a place where giants and fairies roam. Bloody clan battles were fought here, and ancient castles still stand.

You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into an epic fantasy novel.

The island is split up into a series of peninsulas. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll cover the Trotternish Peninsula in the East, the Waternish Peninsula to the West, and the Black Cuillin Hills region of the South.

Shimmering lochs (lakes) dominate the Waternish Peninsula, while jagged volcanic formations left over from landslides form the Trotternish Ridge. Wind-swept Red & Black Cuillin mountains rise to meet the clouds in the South.

Landscapes on Skye are some of the most impressive in all of Britain.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Sligachan Bridge

Planning Your Road Trip

How Long Does It Take?

You can drive around the island in half a day without stopping. But because there’s so much to see, I recommend spending at least 2 full days on the Isle of Skye. Plus you should schedule an additional half day to drive up from Fort William, and another half day to get back.

Combine your Skye road trip with a few days in the Highlands near Fort William, plus a full day in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and you’ve got yourself a wonderful week-long vacation in Scotland.

This is if you don’t plan on any really big hikes or other longer excursions.

When Should You Go?

You’re bound to get some rain whenever you go, but the best season for traveling to the Isle of Skye is summer. There’s a slightly better chance for dry weather between April and mid-June.

However summer is also high-season. The roads will be more crowded, and accommodation is more difficult to find.

Gas/Petrol

The island is small. You should be able to fit a 2 day road trip in on a single tank of gas starting from Fort William. However there are 4 different gas stations on the Isle of Skye just in case you need to fill up.

Food/Groceries

In the main towns you’ll find plenty of cozy pubs and cafes, with a few dedicated restaurants too. However most of the towns are spread out from each other. So make sure to stock up on sandwiches and snacks at a local grocery store each morning. Sausage rolls are a big deal in Scotland, and while not exactly healthy, they are perfect for road trips.

There is a wonderful pub & traditional Scottish restaurant at the Sligachan Hotel called Seumas Bar if you’re craving some neeps & tatties. Or my personal favorite, haggis! Mmmmm. Sheep guts…

Internet/Mobile Phone

Mobile internet on the Isle of Skye is pretty bad. In Broadford and Portree you’ll have 3G, but outside the major towns there’s a good chance you won’t have a signal at all. Vodafone and O2 seem to have the best coverage.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

Getting To Skye

The most common way to get to the Isle of Skye is to fly into Glasgow, rent a car, and drive up through the highlands from there. It takes 5-6 hours. I flew into Edinburgh, took a train to Glasgow, and then started driving. Fort William is a great place to stop for a night in the highlands to help break up the drive.

Mallaig Ferry

From Fort William, drive 1 hour West on route A830 to the small fishing town of Mallaig and catch the 30 minute long Skye Ferry to Armadale.

Skye Bridge

From Fort William, head North on routes A82 and A87 to the Skye Bridge, a trip that takes about 1.75 hours non-stop. But you will certainly want to stop with so much to see on the route. Like the incredible Eilean Donan Castle.

To mix it up a bit, I recommend trying them both. I started my road trip riding the Mallaig ferry over and finished it driving back on the Skye Bridge.

Car Rental

Cars are super reasonable, starting around $26 USD per day for an economy rental out of Glasgow Airport. The car we used for our Isle of Skye road trip was from Arnold Clark Rental.

Renting a car on the Isle of Skye itself is a bit more expensive with fewer choices, but possible through Skye Car Hire or HM Hire.

The big benefit to waiting to rent your car on Skye is that it allows you to take the famous Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Harry Potter train) from Fort William to Mallaig, voted the most scenic train ride in the world.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Pools

Isle of Skye Scotland

Black Cuillin Moutnains

Southern Skye Highlights

Sligachan Bridge

Sligachan is a small village located at the base of the Black Cuillin mountains. It’s been a hub for climbers and travelers to Skye since 1830, forming a major crossroads to other parts of the island.

The old stone bridge at Sligachan is probably the most photographed spot on Skye. Legend has it the cold waters beneath the bridge grant eternal beauty to whoever dips their face in for 7 seconds…

Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools are a long series of small waterfalls and beautiful crystal blue pools cascading down from the Black Cuillin range. Hiking from the car park takes 30-40 minutes depending on high up you decide to venture.

If you want to go for a swim, feel free to jump in! The icy cold water might just take your breath away — but so will the views.

Black Cuillins

A series of 36 imposing peaks huddled together at the southern end of Skye, the Black Cuillins have been a hiking and climbing mecca for 150 years. Dark rocky formations that seemingly rise straight out of the sea. A narrow 12km ridgeline scramble called the Black Cuillin Traverse can be tackled in 2 days with equipment.

We decided to take the Bella Jane Ferry from Elgol to the base of the mountains and spent a morning hiking around Loch Coruisk. When the weather is clear, you can hike to the summit of Sgurr na Stri for the best view in the United Kingdom.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Quiraing

Isle of Skye Scotland

Old Man of Storr

Trotternish Highlights

Old Man Of Storr

You can’t visit the Isle of Skye without hiking up to the Old Man of Storr. Large pinnacles of rock that rise from the ground, this location has been used as a backdrop for many movies, including the sci-fi thriller Prometheus. Legends say the rocks are fingers of a dead giant.

A muddy trail leads up to the rocks and takes about 45 minutes (one way) from the parking area below. The Old Man is often covered in clouds, but it’s not too far from Portree, so you can always come back later in the day and try again when it’s clear.

The Quiraing

Definitely my favorite location on the Isle of Skye, the Quiraing is an other-worldly landscape where huge landslides have created a series of strange cliffs, jagged pinnacles, and plateaus. Trails criss-cross the area, and it’s a great spot for hiking.

A steep winding road leads up to the top of the plateau, with excellent views of the coast below. On a clear day, you’ll see the Islands of Raasay and Rona too. Take a stroll along the steep cliffs, but be careful, it’s a long way down!

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Located off the A855 coastal road, there is a viewpoint on the edge of the cliffs here called Kilt Rock. The massive Kilt Rock Cliffs sort of resemble a Scottish kilt, hence the name. Mealt Falls is a long waterfall that cascades off the cliffs into the ocean below. You need to lean your head out to get a good photo (or bring a drone!).

Isle of Skye Scotland

Dunvegan Castle

Isle of Skye Scotland

Neist Point Lighthouse

Waternish Highlights

The Fairy Glen

A strange and magical place, the Fairy Glen is hidden away off the main road near the village of Uig. It’s a miniature green valley with odd, perfectly conical hills, gnarled dwarf forests and packs of grazing sheep. Whoever named this place couldn’t have picked a better one.

Hiking the maze of trails, you’ll find a new wonder around every bend. Like white stones arranged in concentric circles on the valley floor. A lone rock tower rises above it all, with excellent views of the enchanted landscape below. If fairies do exist, this is their kingdom for sure!

Neist Point Lighthouse

Located on the most Westerly point of Skye, Neist Point is a finger of land stretching out into the sea with a powerful 480,000 candlepower lighthouse on the tip. Massive cliffs ring the coast here, and it’s a wonderful photography spot, especially around sunset.

A walking path takes you all the way to the lighthouse if you want some exercise. It gets very windy on these cliffs, and there have been cases of tourists falling to their deaths. So be very careful near the edges.

Dunvegan Castle

A magnificent castle perched on the edge of a lock, Dunvegan has been the ancestral home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. Still owned by the MacLeods, it’s pretty cool that you can walk through their home, and it’s full of old heirlooms and paintings.

One of the treasures on display is the mystical Fairy Flag, a sacred banner with miraculous powers. Supposedly given to the clan by the queen of fairies, legend says when unfurled during battle, the MacLeods would always defeat their enemies.

Talisker Distillery

The Talisker Distillery has been on the island since 1831. Scotland is famous for its whisky around the world. The flavor of a whisky changes depending on where in Scotland it was distilled, and whiskies like Talisker brewed on the islands have a strong, peaty taste.

This is my personal favorite type of whisky, and it seems writer Robert Louis Stevenson agreed. In one of his poems, he says “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.”

Isle of Skye Scotland

Camping on the Isle of Skye

Accommodation

The Isle of Skye is a small island, so it doesn’t have a ton of accommodation options. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can all be sold out. Skye is one travel destination where it’s very important to book your accommodation months in advance!

Hotels

Portree is the capital of Skye, and a perfect place to base yourself in the middle of the island. I stayed at a wonderful place called the Royal Hotel.

Bed & Breakfasts

If you prefer staying in B&B’s, there’s plenty of those too. here’s a list of great Bed & Breakfasts located around the Isle of Skye.

Backpacker Hostels

Portree SYHA
Broadford SYHA

Camping

Here is a good list of official campsites on the Isle of Skye. Wild camping is allowed, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

We spent one night camping on the coast at Camas Malag, and another night at the Rubha Hunish bothy on the edge of a massive coastal cliff.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Glen

Hiking & Cycling

Accompanying me on my road trip around the Isle of Skye was Scott from Wilderness Scotland. Working as a guide in the Highlands for years, he showed some of his favorite spots. If you’re looking for a bit of adventure during your trip, check out their Isle of Skye tours.

Hiking

Whether you’re into short walks or long-distance hikes, Skye has it all. The Skye Trail is a 128km route that covers incredible mountain & coastal scenery. It takes about 7 days to complete.

Cycling

Road cycling tours are very popular on Skye due to the island’s paved winding roads and amazing scenery. A support vehicle can take your gear to the next town where it’s waiting when you arrive to spend the night.

Waterfall Scotland

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Isle Of Skye Driving Tips

Google driving times are not what they seem, due to all the scenic stops, it can take 2-3 times as long as you think. Remember to park frequently and explore areas on foot, you never know what you’ll find!

The weather changes quickly on the Isle of Skye. So just because the famous “Old Man Of Storr” happens to be covered in clouds at 9am doesn’t mean that will be the case an hour or two later.

For the same reason, it’s wise to keep some waterproof gear (jacket, pants) in a backpack with you at all times when you’re outside of the car.

The roads here are narrow, often without shoulders, and most backroads are single lane. If you’re not used to driving these, it can be nerve-wracking. We saw at least 2 rental cars off the road in a ditch.

The single lane tracks have special passing areas every 400 meters or so. Proper etiquette is the car closest to the turnoff pulls over and lets the oncoming vehicle(s) pass. ★

Watch Video: Scotland’s Isle Of Skye

(Click to watch The Land Of Fairies – Isle Of Skye on YouTube)

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Have any questions about traveling the Isle of Skye? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

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