7 Day Scotland Highlands Road Trip

7 Day Scotland Highland Road Trip Highland Coos

Home to the UK’s highest mountains, legendary lochs, and mythical creatures, a Scotland Highlands Road Trip is truly unforgettable.

The highlands is the largest region in Scotland. It covers nearly 10,000 sq miles in northern Scotland and driving through it is the best way to see it. 

Self-driving through the Scottish Highlands will give you the opportunity to climb stunning mountains, meet the cutest hairy highland cows, and follow the footsteps of Harry Potter in some of the film’s most iconic scenes!

If you’re lucky, you may see “Nessie,” the Loch Ness Monster that is said to inhabit Loch Ness.

Throw some glamping pods and homemade Scottish shortbread on top of all of this and you’ll want to book your trip right now.

Our Scotland road trip took place over the New Year, so we were blessed with unpredictable weather and cold temperatures. All jokes aside, we enjoyed visiting the Highlands during the off season in Scotland because we didn’t have to deal with the typical summer crowds.

This travel guide will help you plan a 7-day self-drive tour of the Scotland Highlands. Learn the best things to see and do, where to stay, and tips from my personal experience!

Scotland Highlands Road Trip Map

Driving the Scotland Highlands in 2020

The area that the Scotland Highlands encompasses is huge. One of the most common driving routes through the Scottish Highlands is the North Coast 500. The NC500 starts in Inverness and continues around a loop to some of the most northerly coastal points in Scotland. Our road trip includes the Isle of Skye and the farthest north we traveled was to Inverness.

The scenery in the Highlands is stunning and you’ll want to stop the car every five minutes to get a better look, or snap a photo. I wanted to stop every time I saw a hairy coo!

Doing the trip in 7 days was doable, but there was a lot we didn’t get to see or do. Since we traveled to Scotland in January, the biggest problem we ran into was the shorter days. Having less light meant we had less time in the day to squeeze everything in.

If you want to travel the same route, and all the way to the northernmost points in Scotland, I would plan to have two weeks of flexibility. You never really know when a crazy snowstorm will plow its way through, so be prepared for anything.

Planning a Scottish Highlands Road Trip

Where to Start From

Most travelers start their Scotland Highlands road trip from Glasgow International Airport or Edinburgh International Airport. Both of these cities have all the necessities to make for an unforgettable road trip through the Scottish Highlands. You can also choose to spend a couple of days at the start or the end of your trip to explore more of the city.

Service Stations

Whether you need to fill up on petrol or use the toilet, the service stations in Scotland are going to be a place you regularly frequent. The average price of a liter of fuel in the UK is around £1.24 for petrol. Service stations are not hard to come by, most of the time. There was only one day that we almost ran out of fuel. Luckily, we found a service station just in time. I would recommend filling up when you have half of a tank, especially if you like to explore the backroads.

Groceries

If you don’t stock up on groceries in Glasgow or Edinburgh, there will be plenty of opportunities to get supplies along the way. Morrisons and Marks & Spencer are two common places to get food products in Scotland. Since we were staying in glamping pods, we knew that we would have a refrigerator to keep our fresh produce in. We stocked up on groceries in Fort Williams and Inverness, you will find these places on the road trip map I included above.

Where to Stay (Glamping Pods?)

As I said, this is the winter glamping edition. I was so excited when I stumbled upon these super cool glamping pods that can be found all over Scotland. The pods are little wooden huts that have everything you would need for a comfortable stay. They are usually equipped with a toilet, shower, cooking stove, running water, heat, and electricity. Being able to take a hot shower after a long day in the cold was incredible.

The price to stay in a glamping pod ranges from £100 to £300. Since we traveled over the New Year, prices seemed to be inflated. The pods are cozy and offer a lot of privacy, I loved staying in them. I’m going to share which pods we rented in my itinerary below.

What Should You See?

Scotland has a ton of highlights. Some of my favorite views were around Glencoe and on the Isle of Skye. I also absolutely loved seeing the highland coos, so we made an effort to stop whenever we saw them on the farms along the road. There are a lot of great walking trails for you to enjoy as well. You’ll find suggested stops in the itinerary that I included below.

Winter in the Scottish Highlands

Is Scotland Worth Visiting in Winter?

Absolutely! Scotland is a great place to visit all year-round. Visiting Scotland in the winter means that you can enjoy the tourist spots with fewer people around. There are fewer cars on the road, which makes driving the Scottish Highlands a lot more enjoyable.

Keep in mind, you may find that some attractions are closed during this time of the year. Also, since the days are shorter, you will have less daylight to fit everything in. Keeping a flexible schedule will give you the best experience on your road trip.

How Cold Does it Get in the Scottish Highlands?

Average winter temperatures in Scotland are between 0 and 10 degrees C (50 F). What makes it feel so cold is the wind! The wind chill will make it feel a lot colder than it actually is. The coldest temperature we felt in the Scottish Highlands in January was -2 degrees C.

Does it Snow in the Highlands of Scotland?

On average, it snows 15 – 20 days per year in Scotland. The Scottish Highlands is more likely to receive snow than other areas of Scotland. Most of the time, the snow just sticks to the peaks. The only time we saw snow during our trip was when we were hiking up the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye.

Unless a storm brings in a ton of snow, most roads are open and snow-free. The weather in Scotland is unpredictable, but we saw a mix of rain and sunshine. As long as you are prepared and bring the right clothing for all kinds of weather, you will have an enjoyable trip.

My Scotland Highlands Road Trip Itinerary

DAY 1: Glasgow to Arisaig

We actually started our Scotland Highland road trip all the way from Cardiff, Wales. It was a long day of driving but we left before the crack of dawn. We wanted to ensure we made it our Airbnb in Arisaid before dark.

Since most people will fly into Glasgow to start their self drive through the highlands, that’s where I’ll start this itinerary. And to be honest, the main attractions we saw from Cardiff to Glasgow were the snack aisles inside the service stations.

The drive from Glasgow to Arisaig is 3.5 hours. It will take you twice as long if you frequently stop the car. Remember that there is less daylight, so plan your day accordingly.

Glasgow

Known for its gorgeous architecture and cool vibe, Glasgow is a city in Scotland that’s worth visiting. This is a good place to grab a bite to eat and do any last-minute shopping. You can also pick up a few groceries or snacks before you embark on your 7-day Scotland Highlands road trip!

Loch Lomand & The Trossachs National Park

Your first stop will be Loch Lomand & The Trossachs National Park. Loch Lomand is the largest lake in Great Britain. The national park offers mountains, lochs, forests, and glens. We stopped at Inveruglas Pyramid, an eight-meter high, pyramid-shaped An Ceann Mòr that offers an elevated vista of Loch Lomand and surrounding areas.

Loch Lomand 7 day Scottish Highlands Road Trip
Loch Lomand (View From Inveruglas Pyramid – An Ceann Mòr)

Glencoe

Glencoe is perhaps Scotland’s most famous and most scenic glen. If you didn’t know, a glen is a narrow valley. If there was one place I would love to spend more time, Glencoe would be it. The area is simply picturesque and offers a lot of activities for outdoor-lovers. This area has been featured in films such as James Bond’s Skyfall and many Harry Potter movies.

Glencoe Sunset Scotland Highlands
Glencoe Sunset

Fort William

Fort William is known as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK.” It’s a popular area for skiers in the winter and mountain bikers in the summer. Nearby, you’ll find Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland. Ben Nevis is 4,411 ft (1,345 m) tall and a perfect place for hillwalkers keen on a full day of mountain walking!

Fort William is also home to the Ben Nevis Distillery. Here you can go on guided tours of the 19th-century distillery and enjoy whiskey tastings. You may even pick up a bottle to enjoy during your road trip.

If you need to pick up some groceries, Fort William has many grocery stores to choose from. Don’t forget to pick up the necessities, like beer, wine, coffee, and shortbread cookies!

Arisaig

Arisaig is a village that lies at the southern end of The Silver Sands of Morar, a series of beautiful sandy beaches from Arisaig to Morar. We decided to spend two nights around the New Year in a luxury glamping pod in Arisaig. The Arisaig glamping pod had views of the Small Isles and Skye.


WHERE TO STAY IN ARISAIG (DAY 1-2)

Luxury
Arisaig Glamping Pods

  • 1 Double Bed
  • 1 Sofa Bed
  • Kitchen
  • Hot Shower
  • Heating
  • Wifi
  • Dogs Allowed
Arisaig Glamping Pod Scotland Highlands
Arisaig Glamping Pod

DAY 2: The Silver Sands of Morar

Back of Keppoch

Since the glamping pod in Arisaig is located in the Back of Keppoch, we decided to take a walk on the coastal path to check out some of the hidden beaches in the area. The silver sands are beautiful and the coast was simply beautiful to explore.

We spent the rest of New Years Day relaxing. We drank wine, enjoyed the views from the pod, and played board games throughout the night, like this super fun Harry Potter Dobble Card Game. This card game was getting us super excited about seeing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, also known as “the Harry Potter Bridge,” the next day.

Arisaig Beach Scotland Highlands
Back of Keppoch
Arisaig Beach
Back of Keppoch

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK AROUND ARISAIG

Sunset Morar Thai Food The food here was fantastic and a great option when we didn’t feel like cooking our own meal. Food is made to order for takeaway only, so make sure to call ahead of time! I really enjoyed the Khow Griep Thai prawn crackers. It’s about a 10-minute drive away.

Arisaig Hotel The Crofter’s BarThe food here is fresh and local. Also, this is just a great place to grab a beer and hang out with all of the locals. If you don’t want to drive, the hotel is within walking distance.


WHERE TO STAY IN ARISAIG (DAY 1-2)

Luxury
Arisaig Glamping Pods


DAY 3: Arisaig to Dornie

The drive from Arisaig to Dornie will take around 2 hours. You will head East towards Fort William before heading Northeast to Dornie. Today, you will get to walk in the footsteps of Harry Potter and gaze at a 13th-century castle!

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Calling all Harry Potter nerds! Your first stop of the day will take you to the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. This is the railway for the Hogwarts Express. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the bridge that you shouldn’t skip. We decided to walk up the right side of the valley to get a view of the bridge from above.

Glenfinnan Viaduct Scotland Highlands Road Trip
Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Bridge
Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Scotland Highlands
Glenfinnan Viaduct (View From Above)

Glenfinnan Monument

You can walk across the street from the Glenfinnan Viaduct parking lot and see the Glenfinnan Monument. The monument pays tribute to those who fought in the Jacobite Risings.

Loch Cluanie Viewpoint

The highlands are full of beautiful lochs and most of the time you are driving past one. Loch Cluanie has a nice viewpoint to stop at. Take a break and enjoy the views here.

Eilean Donan Castle

Your last stop the the day will be Eilean Donan Castle. It’s a great place to watch the sunset and see the castle glow as darkness falls. It was incredibly windy here and it felt like we were going to blow away!

Eilean Donan Castle Dornie Scotland Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle

Dornie

Dornie is a small former fishing village. There is not much to do in the village but it’s a great place to stay because of its proximity to the Isle of Skye and the Five Sisters of Kintail. We had trouble finding last minute availability for accommodations on the Isle of Skye, but luckily we found these awesome glamping pods on Loch Long.


WHERE TO STAY IN DORNIE (DAY 3-4)

Luxury
Loch Long Pod

  • 1 Double Bed
  • 1 Sofa Bed
  • Kitchen
  • Hot Shower
  • Heating
  • Wifi
  • Dogs Allowed
Dornie Glamping Pod Scotland
Loch Long Pod

DAY 4: Isle of Skye

You could easily spend a few days exploring the Isle of Skye. The Isle of Skye quickly became my favorite place on our 7-day Scottish Highlands road trip! The Isle of Skye is connected to the mainland by a large bridge, and there is no toll to cross it.

We started our day early and planned for a full day to drive around Skye. There were a lot of sights we hoped to see and we were set on squeezing in as many as possible. By the time we were heading back to our accommodations, the sun was going down.

Hairy Highland Cows

Our first stop was a farm along the main road. We noticed the highland cattle and stopped immediately. Up until this point, we didn’t see any hairy coos. It was exciting! The farmer was out feeding the cattle and seemed to be more than happy to share these guys with all of the visitors that stopped here.

Isle of Skye Hairy Highland Coos
Hairy Coos Isle of Skye
Scotland Highlands Hairy Coos
Hairy Coos Isle of Skye

Bride’s Veil Falls

Bride’s Veil Falls is a popular photo stop on the Isle of Skye. You can see Old Man of Storr off in the distance. If you love waterfalls then you should make a short stop here. There is a small parking lot and the waterfall is just a short walk on the other side of the wooden gate.

Brides Veil Falls Isle of Skye Scotland
Bride’s Veil Falls

Old Man of Storr

Old Man of Storr is the most famous hill walk on the Isle of Skye. The walk to the top is a lot of fun and the views are absolutely incredible. The formations of the rock are so unique and getting up to them is really fun. The weather in Scotland is very unpredictable. The clouds started to become super dark and grey. Once we walked to the very top, it started to snow! It will take you around 45 minutes to get up Old Man of Storr.

Old Man of Storr Isle of Skye Scotland
Old Man of Storr

Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls

There aren’t many waterfalls that fall directly into the ocean, but Mealt Falls is one of them. Mealt Falls plummets from the top of the cliffs into the Sound of Raasay below. You really do have to see it to believe it. Kilt Rock is made up of basalt columns resting on a sandstone base and is named after the visual resemblance to a pleated kilt. You can see it when you look north.

Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls 7 day Scotland Highlands Road Trip
Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls

Quiraing

If you have the time for it, plan to go on the Quiraing walk. The Quiraing walk is a 6.8km loop, that’ll take around two hours to complete. The views in this area are impressive and we were saddened that we didn’t have the time to enjoy it. Instead, we decided to skip the north part of this side of the Isle of Skye and cut through to Uig. We were glad we drove this way because the views were stunning from the top of the pass!

Quiraing Scotland Highlands Self Drive
Quiraing

Fairy Glen

Just above the village of Uig is the Fairy Glen. This enchanting, off-the-beaten-path spot, is full of cone-shaped hills dotted with ponds and scattered waterfalls. The best view is from the top of Castle Ewan, the natural rock formation that resembles an ancient ruin. You can climb a steep, narrow trail to the top.

Be careful driving the road to get here. The roads are narrow and we saw a car stuck on the side of the road. Also, there are no signs and no formal parking here, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled and park out of the way.

Fairy Glen Isle of Skye Scotland
Fairy Glenn

This is the last stop of the day. From here, you will drive back to the Loch Long glamping pod in Dornie.


WHERE TO STAY IN DORNIE (DAY 3-4)

Luxury
Loch Long Pod


DAY 5: Inverness and Loch Ness

Today, you will leave the village of Dornie and make your way towards Cairngorms National Park. Today will be filled with mythical creatures, castles, and more hairy coos! The total driving time today will be close to four hours.

Rogie Falls

This short walk leads you through the forest to spectacular views and a fun suspension bridge. The dog loved walking around here. There are a few different trails here, but we did a quick out and back since we knew we had to drive more today. If you visit Rogie Falls during August or September then you may even see wild salmon swimming upstream.

Rogie Falls Scotland Highlands Road Trip
Rogie Falls
Rogie Falls Scotland Highlands
Rogie Falls

Inverness

Inverness is the largest city in the Scottish Highlands and is known as the “Capital of the Highlands.” We spent a few hours enjoying the city. We grabbed a bite to eat at a local pub, walked to Ness Islands, and took a visit to Inverness Castle.

If you need to refuel your car or stock up on groceries, Inverness is a great place to do it.

Inverness Scotland

Nairn Beach

If you want to see some more of Scotland’s coastline, you can drive to Nairn Beach. The beach is a nice place to take a walk and enjoy the sea breeze.

Nairn Beach Scotland
Nairn Beach

Loch Ness

Have you ever heard of the Loch Ness Monster? Loch Ness is a large, deep, freshwater loch that is best known for its sightings of “Nessie.” Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to spot it ourselves. There are cruises that will take you around the loch for a better chance to see “Nessie.” Loch Ness cruises are available all year round.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is one of Scotland’s largest castles. The castle sits on the edge of Loch Ness. You can glance at the castle from the road, but if you want to see the castle up close you will have to pay an entrance fee. The price for an adult is £12.00. During the wintertime, the last entry into the castle is at 3:45 p.m. Check opening and closing times here.

Hairy Cow Studio

Your last stop of the day will take you to the Hairy Cow Studio. The Hairy Cow Studio is located on a farm within Cairngorms National Park. It was much cheaper to stay here than the glamping pods we stayed in.

I really wanted to ensure that we could meet some highland cows so that’s why we chose to stay on the farm. It was awesome! Our host was super friendly and you can meet the cattle whenever you want.

Hairy Coo Studio Scotland
Hairy Cow Studio
Hairy Coo Studio Scotland
Hairy Cow Studio


WHERE TO STAY IN CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK (DAY 5-6)

Budget
Hairy Cow Studio

  • 1 Double Bed
  • Kitchen
  • Hot Shower
  • Heated Floors
  • Wifi
  • Washing Machine
  • Dogs Allowed
  • Hairy Coos!
Hairy Coo Studio Airbnb Scotland
Hairy Cow Studio

DAY 6: Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park is the largest national park in the UK. The park offers everything from castles and distilleries to wildlife viewing and walking routes. If you enjoy snow sports, you can visit the slopes of Cairngorm Mountain and try skiing or snowboarding. It’s also known as the perfect mountain biking destination. We were hoping to see Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer in their natural environment, but we weren’t lucky enough.

Cairngorms National Park Sunset
Cairngorms National Park Sunset

Aviemore

Aviemore is a town within Cairngorms National Park. Whether you want to climb mountains, enjoy the rivers and lochs, swing some clubs on the golf course, or take in the incredible scenery on your bike, Aviemore has a ton of outdoor activities to choose from. This is also a good place to restock anything you need for the last two days of your road trip.



WHERE TO STAY IN CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK (DAY 5-6)

Mid-Range
Hairy Cow Studio


DAY 7: Edinburgh

On the last day of your 7-day Scotland Highlands road trip, you will make your way to Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. The city has a medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings. 

Edinburgh Castle

There’s a lot to see and do in Edinburgh. One of the most popular sights in Edinburgh is Edinburgh Castle, which looms over the city. We briefly stopped in front of the castle for lunch before starting the long drive all the way back to Cardiff.

Edinburgh Castle Scotland
Edinburgh Castle

Tips For Driving The Scottish Highlands

How Long Does it Take?

Since the highlands cover such a large area of Scotland, you need a minimum of seven days if you want to make a road trip out of it. I would recommend having two weeks if you wanted to add the NC500 itinerary on top of my itinerary above.

Best Time to Visit the Scottish Highlands

Summertime brings the warmest weather in Scotland and most people visit during June, July and August. If you travel in the wintertime, you will get to enjoy some of the Scottish Highland’s most popular attractions without overwhelming crowds of people.

The Scottish Highlands had some of the most magical scenery I’ve ever seen and I think you’ll agree with me when you experience it for yourself. I’d love to plan another trip to drive the NC500 and do a little bit more peak bagging!

Travel Planning Resources for Scotland Highlands

Book Your Flight

Google Flights is always my first stop when searching for flights. Skyscanner is great for last minute flights and good deals. You can also read how I travel abroad for less than $20.

Book Accommodation

I love using Booking.com for booking hostels and cheap hotels. We rented the glamping pods that I included in my itinerary on Airbnb. Get $40 off your first Airbnb trip.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! World Nomads is amazing. If you get bit by a monkey, wreck your motorbike, lose your luggage, you can find travel insurance to cover your expenses. 

Get a quote from World Nomads Travel Insurance

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Plan Your 7 Day Road Trip Through the Scotland Highlands. Follow an itinerary and map!
Plan Your 7 Day Road Trip Through the Scotland Highlands. Follow an itinerary and map! #ScotlandHighlands #RoadTrip #ScotlandTravelGuide

Do you have any questions about your road trip through the Scottish Highlands? Leave them in the comments section!

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27 days ago

This was such a great read and SO informative. I have not been to Scotland and have only visited a small portion of Europe, so this definitely informed me of a lot of information. I have not been to Europe in about 5 years either, so it was a good refresher. I will definitely be able to use this on my future travels to Europe and Scotland

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