Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Scottish Itinerary

In one month, my college bestie, April, will be our first houseguest and I have been busy trying to put together an itinerary that will make her fall head over heels in love with Scotland. She’ll be here for seven days, and though I’m tempted to try to cram as much scenery, history, whisky, and golf into her journey as I can, I know that the better tactic is to focus on 3 areas and take our time exploring.

I know enough about Scotland to know that Edinburgh is the biggest must see of all the must sees, so our trip will begin and end there. And though Aberdeenshire doesn’t always make the tourist to-do list, it’s important that I be able to show my friend where I live and what my daily life is like. Plus, I think this area of Scotland is highly underrated and such a hidden gem. Everyone says that the west coast is so beautiful, but how much more beautiful than this could it possibly be?:

Maybe I’m a little biased, but I think North Eastern Scotland rocks, so April will definitely be getting an insider’s look at life in and around ‘The Deen’. Aberdeen is also a great home base for day trips to the more well-known Highlands, which we’ve definitely got on our list. So with Edinburgh and Aberdeen eating up at least 4 of her 7 days in Scotland, that leaves room for just one more area of focus.

To help her choose, I’ve put together a summary of a few different areas of Scotland so that she can make an educated guess informed decision of what she’d most like to experience. This is basically the list I came up with: 
Home of Loch Ness. Home of the Loch Ness monster. Need I say more?
Though the infamous lake didn’t make it onto my own Scottish itinerary when I visited the first time, when I returned it was the number one item on my wish list.
In addition to the legends, the lake is beautiful and Inverness is a quaint and precious town. At the visitor’s center, watching the educational video and having the movie screen lift to reveal 180 degree views of Urquhart castle was one of my favorite moments of my second trip to Scotland, and the initial sight took my breath away.  I’d love to share that moment with my friend.
It would also be fun to cruise the lake on a boat tour, and see if we could spot Nessie for ourselves. Since Inverness isn’t all that far from Aberdeen, it would be possible to take the train in for a day trip from Aberdeen. Is it worth a day? April says yes, and therefore, so do IJ. 

Isle of Skye.

Fairy Pools, Isle of Sky (Source)
The Isle of Skye is world famous, named by National Geographic as the 4th most beautiful Island on Earth.  It’s also listed as one of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and I’ve been itching to go there ever since my Mom (avid 1000 Places follower) raved about the scenery 4 years ago. April’s trip might be my perfect opportunity to finally see the mountainous terrain for myself.
Another bonus about choosing the Isle of Skye as our side trip is that we can get there by taking the Jacobite steam train (AKA *The Hogwarts Express*) from Fort William to Mallaig, and from there hop a ferry across to the island.
Sounds like a super fun girls trip to me!

For a Scottish history novice, Stirling might not seem like a good choice for a detour, since many of the attractions center on Scotland’s long fight for independence. Home of both the William Wallace monument and Stirling castle, this area of Scotland is particularly picturesque.

When I visited this area before, we spent the night in a small town just outside of Stirling called Bridge of Allan and it was the most darling town I have ever seen. I just fell in love with it instantly and have been jonesing to go back ever since.

Orkney Isles.
Now the Orkney Islands are probably a stretch for squeezing into such a short trip, especially when April’s exiting flight is in southern Scotland and Orkney lies north of the northern-most tip of Scotland, but man oh man, do I want to see some Orkney Islands!
Stone circles? Prehistoric dwellings? Wild and rugged scenery? Rare wildlife? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. The only problem is that due to it’s isolation and geographic location, it’s quite a hassle to get up there and would eat up quite a bit of our precious time just with travel arrangements. But it’s been a travel dream of mine for years now, and I am oh so close, yet oh so far away.

I need to remember that this is April’s dream vacation, and not mine, and while I have 3 years to explore Scotland, she only has 7 days. Hopefully sometime in the next 3 years I’ll be able to add the Orkney Islands to my ‘Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.’ list. Any of my Scottish girls want to take a road/ferry trip with me?

Back to the topic at hand, my head is spinning with all of the options and attractions Scotland has to offer, and I don’t want to overwhelm April by stretching her too thin. I could really use some tips from my readers who have experience traveling Scotland. What would you say are the must see sights and what are some things that are lower priority? Is there something that I haven’t listed here that I should definitely consider? Is there something that I’ve listed that you don’t feel is worth the hype?
Remember, the point of this trip is to make April love Scotland so much, that she’ll come back and get a chance to see all the things she missed her first time around. So what would be on your Scottish starting lineup?


  1. I say you go to Inverness for the night and then head on over to Isle of Skye. The drive is beautiful out that way. We usually go to a distillery in the highlands, head to Johnston's cashmere shop, and then stay at a B&B in Inverness. Wake up the next morning and then drive out to skye stopping off at Eilean Donan castle. I really like the town of Plockton and Applecross if you fancy driving out that way as well. But Portree is really cute too. It's a lot of driving but you see some amazing views, assuming the weather will cooperate. Let me know if you want B&B recommendations.

    1. This is so helpful! I definitely would like some B&B recommendations:) I was thinking of doing the Hogwart's Express out to Mallaig/ferrying to Skye, but I'm leaning towards just driving since it will give us more flexibility to explore. Thanks for your feedback:)!!

  2. I can't help you out at all, but this all makes me really really want to visit too!!!

    1. Please please please come visit! Hopefully by the time you guys get the chance to come over here, I'll have this travel agent thing all figured out:)

  3. Is it bad that I begrudge my unborn child for messing up my trip to Scotland?? I guess the answer is yes...maybe both him and I can take an trip the following year...is it a good idea to fly oversees with an 8 mo old? Or maybe it will just be mommy's getta way...needless to say, super jealous of April...hope y'all have the best time ever!!!!

  4. I may just copy this itinerary for my Mom's visit! Looks wonderful!

  5. Hi, I just stumbled upon this post and thougt I'd give you my 2 cents... I did this trip with my mom when she visited me. We started up in Edinburgh, spend two nights there, then went to Loch Lomond, one night there. Then we drove to Fort William through Glencoe (definitely breathtaking scenery). One night in Fort william. Next day we drove from Fort William to Mallaig and on the ferry, then we drove around Skye and then back inland to loch ness and on to Inverness. Now that was probably a bit too much, and I would break it up with a night in Skye, and then the next day take some time to drive to Inverness and see Loch ness. Next day back to Aberdeen, mayeb the scenic route through Speyside and take in a distillery. Last of your 7 nights in Aberdeen. It's quite tight, and you could probably skip a night in Loch Lomond or Fort William. It's a lot of driving as well. But, my mom loved it, and she was a tough crowd because she normally spends her summer holiday on the French riviera and I had to make it special enough to forgo the sun and heat of the mediterranean. years later she still raves about the landscapes! Hope this helps...

  6. You need to go to Up Helly AA in Sheltand if you get a chance too.