A quick trip to Scotland took us to Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Isle of Skye, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Glencoe, Edinburgh and more!
Thanks to the Spice Girls deciding to do a Reunion Tour, Ben and I had the opportunity to finally visit Scotland! The concert was in Edinburgh, but I was overcome with wanderlust for the Highlands, so we decided to turn our short trip into what I’m calling the Scotland Express.
If you have a decent amount of time to spend in Scotland, you can begin and finish your trip in Edinburgh for easy flight arrangements. Because we were limited on time, we flew into Manchester (cheapest option at the time of booking), took a tiny plane up to Inverness Airport, rented a car, and drove down to Edinburgh over the course of three days.
I had many things on my bucket list for Scotland. The recommendations below are what we narrowed it down to in the interest of time. Many more beautiful locations and fun activities await, so be sure to do some research.
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle
We began our journey early in the morning just south of Inverness Airport at Loch Ness. We drove along the lake until we reached Urquhart Castle and were rewarded with lovely views along the way. For a small fee, you can tour the inside of the castle. Because of our extremely tight itinerary this day, we did not take the tour.
Eilean Donan Castle
Following Urquhart Castle, we set out for Eilean Donan Castle. It’s no surprise this is one of Scotland’s most visited castles — it’s absolutely stunning. This was a quick photo stop for us, but the option to tour the castle is also available.
Isle of Skye
Our next destination was Isle of Skye, which is known for its picturesque landscapes. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful region of Scotland and one that is not to be missed. However, you should have an idea of where you want to go, as most of the beautiful photo opportunities are not easily seen from the road. Our first stop in Isle of Skye was a lunch stop in Portree.
I knew I wanted to go to Portree the first time I saw a picture of its colorful buildings lining the harbor. Portree is often used as a base camp for people exploring Isle of Skye, as it is the largest town on the island. It’s also home to some delicious fish and chips!
I had my heart set on taking a beautiful hike in Isle of Skye. Knowing we would only have time for one, I researched the Top Ten Skye Walks and narrowed it down to my favorites, did some further research on each, and eventually decided on the Quiraing.
The Quiraing Loop covers approximately four miles of Scotland’s most spectacular landscapes. High cliffs and unique rock formations provide stunning views — I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for us.
The day was full of nonstop rain and fog. We made it to the Quiraing, hopeful that the rain would stop by the time we got there. It showed no signs of stopping, but we decided to proceed with our hike as planned. We had come so far, and we had the proper waterproof gear to brave the elements.
We didn’t get to see the views I had been looking forward to — it’s kind of funny actually, we made it to the highest peak and I knew exactly what view was in front of us, but all we could see was gray. Nonetheless, we got a few epic pictures at the start of the trail, had a blast walking around in the rain and trekking through mud and streams, and we encountered some sweet sheep along the way. I’m still a little heartbroken we didn’t get to fly the drone for what would have been the most amazing aerial footage of Scotland, but on these short trips I’ve learned that we have to take advantage of whatever we’re given and enjoy it regardless of whether or not it meets our expectations.
From the Quiraing, we had a bit of a drive to get to Fort William where we were staying overnight. It was an absolutely beautiful drive to Fort William alongside several lochs — we had to stop and take in the views a few times, especially once the rain stopped.
We stayed at Hotel Alexandra in Fort William, which had a nice restaurant and bar waiting for us once we checked in and changed out of our wet clothes. We didn’t explore Fort William (except for lunch the following day), but it provided a good stopping point after a long day of driving and walking around in the rain.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a must for any Harry Potter fan in Scotland, who will recognize its iconic appearance from several of the films. If you time your visit right, you can even see the Hogwarts Express pass by!
Okay — in real life, it’s called the Jacobite Steam Train. You can find its timetable online and join many other Harry Potter fans at the viewpoint for a nostalgic experience no other train can bring!
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to find parking, walk to the viewpoint and claim your spot for a good picture — seriously, there were probably 100 people there by the time the train came through. We arrived about an hour prior to the train’s passing and the tiny parking lot was already full. The lot at the beginning of the trail is tiny; paid parking at the visitor center up the road is also an option.
Even though this was a pretty touristy stop, I adored watching the train go by. The drone got some incredible views for us as well!
We drove back toward Fort William, stopped for lunch, and hit the road en route to Glencoe. Driving on A-82 through Glencoe offers the most incredible, green, mountainous views. We must have pulled off the road five times in 30 minutes to stop and take photos, and in one spot we flew the drone for a quick moment. I wish we had time for a hike in this area, but we had a long drive ahead of us to Edinburgh.
We took a turn off A-82 for a drive along Glen Etive road, a single-track road that goes through beautiful mountains as it follows River Etive toward Loch Etive. It was also a filming location for Braveheart and Skyfall. We didn’t drive the entire length of the road because it would’ve added nearly another hour to our drive, but we did drive about 15 minutes in, then turned around and drove back to A-82 with some stops for pictures.
Highland Cattle & Scottish Sheep
A big item on my Scotland bucket list was meeting a Highland cow, a “hairy coo” as they’re often called. They weren’t as abundant as I expected them to be! There were a couple times we saw them from the road but weren’t able to access them. Finally, somewhere along A-82 between Glencoe and Edinburgh, I spotted some directly beside the highway. However, there wasn’t a spot to pull off for at least a quarter-mile down the road. Ben fed into my desire, parked the car and we walked along the shoulder of the highway back to where we saw the cows. They were frightened by us and wouldn’t come near the fence, but at least I saw them (and even some babies!) from a distance. Cute!
Also worth a mention are the adorable sheep. Sheep are everywhere in Scotland — you really can’t drive more than five minutes without seeing some; sometimes they’re even right in the middle of the road! I think sheep are adorable creatures, so this made me very happy.
We finally arrived in Edinburgh later that afternoon and parked our car at the NCP Car Park Edinburgh Castle Terrace, which is an expensive £35 per day, but the apartment we booked provided us with a discount card that brought that down to £14.
We stayed at the No. 1 Apartments George IV Bridge, centrally located in Edinburgh’s Old Town, just footsteps away from Victoria Street, the Royal Mile and other areas of interest. It was perfect. This has to be one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed on any trip. Normally we don’t splurge so much, but we had tons of points accumulated on our travel credit card so we booked it at essentially no cost to us.
Another cool thing about this apartment was that it was located directly above The Elephant House! Harry Potter fans know this cafe as the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” Though it may not have been where J.K. Rowling initially started writing the series, she did spend a bit of time writing here. Therefore, Harry Potter fans flock to it to take photos and sign their names on the bathroom stalls inside.
Exploring Edinburgh was fun! What a beautiful city. We didn’t have a lot of time, only the afternoon we arrived and the first half of the next day prior to the concert, but we squeezed in the following activities.
Victoria Street is a curved cobblestone street lined with colorful buildings and full of charm. It is also said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley — yet another Harry Potter gem! There are some cute shops on this street, including a Harry Potter gift shop full of fun items.
Sticking with the theme, Greyfriars Kirkyard is said to be another inspiration for the Harry Potter books. Several graves here bear names that are also found in the books, including Moody, Potter, McGonagall and the infamous Thomas Riddell himself! Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, this graveyard is still a gorgeous, quiet place to wander about and pay your respects.
While at Greyfriars Kirkyard, be sure to check out the grave for Bobby, located right in front of the church. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who became known in Edinburgh for spending 14 years beside the grave of his owner until he died himself. A pile of sticks (how sweet!) and flowers lay atop his grave.
Just outside of Greyfriars Kirkyard, there is also a life-sized commemorative monument for Bobby. The statue can be found in front of Greyfriars Bobby pub and restaurant, which has delicious meat pies and is a great place for dinner and drinks!
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile runs all the way from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Hollyroodhouse. It is full of places to eat, drink and shop, and it is often lined with kilted bagpipe players setting the mood for a very Scottish experience.
Edinburgh Castle is a beautiful fortress that sits atop an extinct volcano, its presence towering over the city below. You may pay for a tour of the castle and see the Crown Jewels of Scotland, the Stone of Destiny, and learn about Edinburgh’s history.
National Museum of Scotland
We paid a visit to the National Museum of Scotland because it was pouring rain, admission was free, and we had read that the remains of Dolly the Sheep are displayed here.
This is a great museum. I’m typically not huge on museums, but this one provided a lot of fun and interactive displays. We spent about an hour in here before heading back into the rain. An hour isn’t nearly enough time to see everything in the museum, but we picked the exhibits that sounded the most interesting to us and were not disappointed.
A short walk up Calton Hill provides a spectacular panoramic view over Edinburgh. There are several interesting monuments up here, and it’s actually the headquarters of the Scottish Government.
Our time in Scotland was short, but not a moment was wasted. This whirlwind of a weekend provided us a taste of how beautiful and amazing Scotland is. We can’t wait to return!