11 things you must do on an epic Scotland road trip

Scotland has been on my list of must-see places since I was a kid. I’ve always felt proud of my Scottish heritage, and have been keen to see where my ancestors came from.

Scotland has a rich history, and so many amazing locations to visit. There was no way we could fit everything in, but we agreed on a handful of non-negotiables and then hit the road.

We drove ourselves from Edinburgh to Glen Coe, via Inverness and Loch Ness. We stayed the night in Glen Coe and made our way back to Edinburgh via Stirling the next day.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t kind to us during our stay. It rained. It poured. It snowed. But, in the best way possible, it felt like home.

Driving those country roads reminded me of New Zealand but on a much grander scale. I felt dwarfed by the mountains of Glen Coe and was awed by the number of castles we encountered.

I really wanted to stay.

So, without further ado, here are my tongue-in-cheek rules to have yourself an epic road trip in Scotland.

1. Catch the ferry from Ireland.

We travelled from Belfast to Cairnryan, got a bus from Cairnryan to Ayr, then caught the train to Edinburgh. A bit of effort, yes. But, it was nice to mix up our modes of transport and to view the coastlines from the sea. Also, check out that sunrise!
Scotland_Ferry Scotland_Ferry

2. Fall in love with Edinburgh.

This one is easy. Edinburgh has such a welcoming charm to it. It’s a big city, but with a small town vibe. I was smitten with its cobbled streets, medieval feel, and the castle looming over everything. And don’t forget that JK Rowling wrote much of the Harry Potter series here. I can see why. Edinburgh felt magical to me, and I wish I had more time to explore the various locations that inspired her. Luckily, fellow kiwi-come-Edinburgh local Sonja from Migrating Miss has compiled a handy-dandy cheat sheet which I am totally going to take advantage of next time. (There will be a next time!)
Scotland_Edinburgh Scotland_Edinburgh

3. Just miss out on going inside the castle, but act like all you wanted was wide-scale outside shots anyway.

We didn’t have enough time to explore the castle when we arrived, so we took some photos and wandered around the city instead. Those views, though.
Scotland_Edinburgh CastleScotland_Edinburgh Castle

4. Pay Nessie a visit, but don’t be disheartened if she doesn’t show up.

Apparently, she’s shy.
The Loch Ness Monster. The stuff of legend! Okay, so I know she’s probably not real, but part of me was hoping we’d catch a glimpse of her. I would even settle for an unidentified splash in the lake, but alas. We got nothing. Except for those majestic views along the way.
Scotland_Nessie Scotland_Nessie Scotland_Nessie

5. Make a stop at Urquhart Castle. Don’t mind the pouring rain, sleet and hail — I heard it puts hairs on your chest!

We got absolutely hammered by rain and sleet. Normally that would put us in a bad mood, but for some reason we spent the whole time running around like a couple of kids, laughing our heads off. I tell you, Scotland is swathed in magic. Urquhart was once one of the largest castles in Scotland, but now it’s little more than ruins. It was fascinating to discover what is left of it and to imagine how grand it must have been in its hey-day.
Scotland_Urquhart Castle Scotland_Urquhart Castle Scotland_Urquhart Castle Scotland_Urquhart Castle Scotland_Urquhart Castle Scotland_Urquhart Castle

6. Take a drive-by photograph of Shetland Cattle.

Not one of them turned around to say hello. Rude. I was so excited to see these beautiful cows, but we didn’t really get a chance to get much closer than this. I expected to see more of them during our two-day road trip, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Scotland_Shetland Cattle

7. Stay the night in one of the cutest little riverside pods you’ve ever seen.

When I stumbled upon the Riverbeds Luxury Wee Lodges, I was sold. Of course we would stay in a place like this! Nestled in the Glen Coe area, the lodges are cute and cosy, with a riverside hot tub to warm your bones after a day of exploring. We felt like a couple of Hobbits bunking down for the night. Perfection.
Scotland_Pod Scotland_Pod Scotland_Pod

8. Be humbled by the sheer splendour that is Glen Coe.

Driving through the glen was like nothing I have experienced before. The sheer size of the mountains just takes your breath away. I’m pretty sure I sat there with wide eyed surprise the entire time. Everywhere you looked was majestic, snow-capped, and overwhelming. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way, but I doubt you’d ever get your fill!
Scotland_Glen Coe Scotland_Glen Coe Scotland_Glen Coe Scotland_Glen Coe Scotland_Glen Coe Scotland_Glen Coe

9. Try not to look like a creeper on the side of the road.

I mean, you can try, but will you succeed?
Scotland_Glen Coe

10. Stop into Stirling Castle, and marvel at the views (both indoors and out).

Stirling Castle is surprisingly interactive. Many of the rooms inside have informative activities you can take part in, and the staff (dressed in historical garments) encourage you to ask questions as they act out life in the castle. I mean, usually you’re not allowed to touch anything in historical buildings, so it was refreshing to be able to play around. The views from the castle were stunning.
Scotland_Stirling Castle Scotland_Stirling Castle Scotland_Stirling Castle Scotland_Stirling Castle

11. Come back to Edinburgh castle in the pouring rain, minutes before closing. Sweet talk the lady at the gate into letting you quickly duck in for a look.

We arrived late in the day, and practically begged and pleaded to be allowed in. It was our last chance to explore, after all. I think we ended up with about 15 minutes to run around and see as much as we could in the dark, and pouring rain.
Scotland_Edinburgh Castle Scotland_Edinburgh Castle Scotland_Edinburgh Castle

What are your epic road trip rules? Have you spied Nessie before?

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Author: Michelle

Michelle Harvey is a kiwi traveller, writer, photographer, list-maker, coffee drinker, and wanderer. Winter holidays are her favourite kind.

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