Scotland is a destination that draws millions of tourists each year. Its beautiful landscapes, fascinating history, and incredibly friendly people attract people from all around the globe to explore this beautiful country. However, many people stick to the same, well-trodden path that only takes them around Edinburgh and the lowlands and all but a few tourists ignore the less touristed Highlands and islands on their Scotland itinerary.
This is a mistake, as some of the best areas of Scotland lie in hard-to-reach areas. We spent ten days exploring this amazing country and tried our hardest to include both the tourist favourites and some off the beaten path places. Despite Scotland being a fairly small country, we felt we had barely scratched the surface and left having planned at least four other trips.
Something we’ve found is that planning the perfect 10-day Scotland itinerary can be tricky. Luckily, I’m here to help and have put together the perfect route to begin exploring the Highlands and beyond!
When to Visit Scotland
Before I jump into this Scotland itinerary, it’s necessary to discuss what is the best time of year to visit Scotland. Known to be wet, grey, and chilly, Scotland isn’t famous for its nice weather, however, there are still some months that are better to visit than others.
It will come as no surprise that the best time to visit Scotland — that is if you want the best weather — is in the summer months of July and August. However, because the weather is at it’s warmest and the days are at their longest, these are also the most popular months for tourists, as well.
Especially during the month of August in Edinburgh (due to the famed Fringe Festival), expect there to be a LOT of tourist crowds in more popular areas. However, there is a lot of Scotland that remains off of the typical tourist trail and these places are very much worth visiting. So, if you plan to visit in the summer, it is probably in your best interest to get a bit off the beaten path.
While July and August are the warmest months of the year, don’t expect very high temperatures. Further south, highs will be around 20°C (68°F) and, in the highlands and islands, expect highs to be closer to about 16-18° (60-64°F).
Spring and autumn can be attractive times to visit Scotland, as well, as the temperatures aren’t too low and the tourist crowds are unlikely to have arrived in hordes yet. Late spring and early autumn are going to be the warmest months and the closer you get to winter on either end is going to be colder. Make sure that you bring a good waterproof jacket whatever the season, but especially in the chillier months.
Winters are cold and dark, the days can be short because of Scotland’s northern location and you may find some accommodation options and restaurant in more tourist-reliant towns and villages to be closed for the offseason. This is, however, the most affordable time of year to visit. If you plan to head to Scotland in the months of December, you can also expect to have your pick of charming Christmas markets to explore and lots of decorations to look at, most notably in Edinburgh.
No matter when you plan your Scotland itinerary, you can also expect there to be a lot of rain. Along with good outerwear, you will also no regret finding a good pair of waterproof shoes for your Scotland trip.
How to Get Around Scotland
Unless you’re taking an organised tour through Scotland, you are going to need to figure out how to get around the country independently and by far the easiest way to do this is by your own car.
Public transport does exist in Scotland and it can be a good option for those who are only interested in visiting major cities and towns, however, if you want to venture into the countryside of visiting some far-flung areas, having your own vehicle is going to be necessary.
They drive on the left-hand side of the road in Scotland and the road conditions on the major motorways are good, however, they do tend to decline the more rural you go. Some roads in the far north of the country, for instance, only have room for one car to get through and include small passing places for oncoming traffic every hundred metres or so.
This can seem overwhelming at first, however, these rural country roads aren’t ever to congested with traffic and people do tend to be apologetic to confused or stressed out tourists.
If you want to rent a car in Scotland, we recommend using RentalCars.com to find the best deals across all available platforms. We would also suggest that you take out a third-party policy with iCarHireInsurance in order to be affordably covered for any excess. Finally, buying a prepaid SIM card for the UK will ensure you can access your GPS at all times!
10-Day Scotland Itinerary: Discover The Highlands
This circular 10-day Scotland itinerary sees you beginning and ending in the lovely Highland capital of Inverness. This will take you past some of the main sites of the highlands, through some truly spectacular natural scenery, and up through the Orkney Islands off the north coast of mainland Britain.
Days 1 – 2: Inverness
Inverness is the likely first stop on any trip through the north of Scotland and, as such, dons the nickname “The Gateway to the Highlands.” Though small in size, this city packs a considerable amount of charm and is well worth spending at least one day exploring Inverness.
It is easy to get around the city on foot and take in the laid-back atmosphere. Stop by the Inverness Castle, enjoy some peace and quiet on the Ness Islands, and kick back with a pint at one of the many convivial pubs. Inverness also has a great restaurant and craft beer scene, so there is something for everyone’s taste in this compact Scottish city.
On your second day, it’s time to head out and on one of the many great day trips from Inverness — perhaps to the Culloden battlefield or to the mystical Loch Ness.
Where to Stay in Inverness:
Inverness is a popular base for those looking to explore the Highlands of Scotland and therefore isn’t lacking in accommodation options for any size of budget. Here are some of our top picks:
Best Budget Option: Black Isle Hostel
This hostel is in a great location and is one of the best-rated hostels in Inverness. Aside from having multiple dorms of different, they also have private rooms, a welcoming and friendly staff, and a bar serving over 20 different kinds of local craft beers. This would be a great place to stay, especially if you’re travelling solo and want to meet like-minded travellers. Click here to see the latest prices for Black Isle Hostel!
Best Mid-Range Option: Torridon Guest House
This quaint guesthouse is one of the best places to stay in Inverness if your budget allows for a little bit more than a hostel. It is located within a short walking distance of the city centre, has great ratings, comfortable rooms, breakfast included, and free parking. Click here to see the latest prices for Torridon Guest House!
A great alternative option to traditional hostels, hotels, and guesthouses is Airbnb. You can get a private room on Airbnb where you get the added benefit of staying with a local or alternatively there are some great whole apartments you can rent. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can click here to get up to $40 off of your first stay!
Not what you’re looking for? Then click here to browse the best available deals on hotels in Inverness!
Days 3 – 5: Cairngorms National Park
From Inverness, it’s time to head a bit south to the Cairngorms National Park. This sub-arctic plateau offers ample outdoor activities to delight even the most adrenaline-seeking of travellers. There numerous hiking routes that range in difficulty, and also opportunity to go horseback riding, kayaking, and any other number of outdoor activities.
If hiking isn’t really your thing, the Cairngorms are situated in the Speyside region — one of the largest Scotch whisky-producing regions in the country. There are over fifty distilleries that you could tour and learn a little more about how Scotch is made and how to taste it. Whisky tasting is also possible as a day trip from Inverness and there are tours that also include parts of the Cairngorms that you can do if you want to avoid driving after all of that whisky!
Where to Stay in the Cairngorms:
If you want to get the most out of all of the beautiful nature in the Cairngorms, then camping is a great option. There are a number of lovely campsites scattered around the national park.
If you don’t plan on camping, I would suggest staying in the town of Aviemore, which has the most amenities and accommodation options for tourists. Here are some of our top picks:
Best Overall Option: The Lazy Duck
The Lazy Duck is located in the small village of Nethy Bridge, not far outside of Aviemore and it is a wonderful place to stay if you want to escape into nature. They have a small campsite, a hostel with dorm beds, and private cabins you can hire so there is really something for everyone here. It is also close to some fantastic hiking routes.
Best Budget Option: Aviemore Youth Hostel
If you are on a budget and would prefer to stay closer to civilization, then Aviemore Youth Hostel is the place for you. They offer affordable dorm beds and come very highly rated. Click here to see the latest prices for Aviemore Youth Hostel!
Best Mid-Range Option: The Cairngorm Hotel
If you’re looking for a nice and romantic place to stay on Aviemore’s main street, then the Cairngorm Hotel is for you. This hotel has a range of rooms, great ratings, and has breakfast included in the rate. This is one of the best places to stay in Aviemore. Click here to see the latest prices for the Cairngorm Hotel!
Not what you’re looking for? Then click here to browse the best deals for hotels in the Cairngorms!
Day 6: Durness
After your adventures in the Cairngorms, It’s time to make your way north to the charming port town of Ullapool. While this village itself doesn’t have a lot of things to do, it is expertly situated if you want to go for a boat trip, whale watching, or to explore more of Scotland’s beautiful western coastline.
This part of the journey will provide you with possibly the most scenic drive of this whole Scotland road trip itinerary. Make your way along the windy, one-lane roads of the Northwest Highlands to the small, sleepy town of Durness and make sure to pull over and take a lot of pictures — the scenery is truly spectacular. Make sure to check out the Smoo Cave in Durness but, besides that, there isn’t much in this tiny town. However, it is a great place to spend the night and enjoy the beautiful, pristine coast.
Where to Stay in Durness:
If you’re on a tight budget and want to save some money, we would suggest that you spend the night wild camping under the stars in Durness. It is legal to pitch a tent almost anywhere in Scotland, so long as you aren’t a nuisance to residents and clean up after yourself. However, if camping really isn’t your thing, here are some of our accommodation pick for Durness:
Best Option: Durness Smoo Youth Hostel
This small hostel is a great place to rest your head in Durness. It is located close to the Smoo Cave and also some fantastic hiking routes. It has a couple of dorm rooms and comes very highly rated. Click here to see the latest prices for Durness Smoo Youth Hostel!
Not what you’re looking for? Then click here to browse the best deals for hotels in Durness!
Days 7 – 9: Orkney
Your seventh day sees you leaving mainland Britain and heading to the wonderful, peaceful Orkney Islands. There is a comfortable car ferry that leaves from the town of Scrabster a few times per day and the journey takes about ninety minutes.
While very small, there are so many things to do in Orkney and one could easily spend more than the three nights I recommend for this 10-Day Scotland itinerary. These beautiful islands are not only packed to the gills with fascinating Neolithic sites, there is a very interesting Viking history here as well as breathtaking bucolic scenery and some very friendly locals.
Where to Stay in Orkney:
We stayed at an Airbnb in Kirkwall (you can up to $40 off your first stay by clicking this link) but there some budget hotels available. Orkney is, however, a small island so we do recommend booking accommodation in advance as the good places go quickly.
Best Budget Option: Kirkwall Youth Hostel
Located in the biggest town on the Mainland island of Orkney, Kirkwall Youth Hostel is a great budget option on the islands. They offer both dorm beds and private rooms and come with high ratings, is very clean, and has a great and helpful staff. Click here to see the latest prices for Kirkwall Youth Hostel!
Best Mid-Range Option: Heatherlea
Also located in the biggest town on Orkney, Kirkwall, Heatherlea is a lovely bed and breakfast to stay at if you’re looking for a bit more comfort on your Scotland itinerary. They have a range of rooms available and also include a full Scottish breakfast in their rates. Click here to see the latest prices for Heatherlea!
Not what you’re looking for? Then click here to browse the best deals for hotels in Orkney!
Day 10: Tain
After three nights in Orkney, it’s time to head back to the mainland and begin working your way south. Your stop for the evening will be the lovely town of Tain, the oldest of the royal burghs in Scotland and home to the Glenmorangie whisky distillery.
Spend your last night again in Inverness before calling an end to your amazing Highlands road trip.
Scotland Itinerary: 14 Days – 3 Weeks
This longer Scotland road trip itinerary expands upon the one mapped out above, incorporating both well-trodden tourist highlights and more off-beat destinations. Depending on your own typical speed of travel, this itinerary could take you anywhere between two and four weeks and I would generally recommend allowing at least three in order to avoid exhaustion. For that reason, I’m not going to give suggestions as to the number of nights to spend in each destination. You can also consider incorporating other parts of the UK & Ireland on your itinerary.
This Scotland itinerary is another circular route, but this time beginning and ending in Scotland’s vibrant capital of Edinburgh. From Edinburgh, this Scotland road trip has you moving your way anti-clockwise along the coast. The second stop on this Scotland road trip itinerary is the historic university town of St. Andrews, famous not only for the aforementioned uni but also for its golf course where the sport was invented.
From St. Andrews, head to Aberdeen — also known as the Granite City. After spending some time getting to know this industrial port city, it’s time to get into nature and head to the Cairngorms. Spend a few days hiking, kayaking, and whisky tasting before making your way onto Inverness — the Gateway to the Highlands.
Spend a few days in Inverness, exploring the city and taking advantage of one of the many day trips from the city. And now it’s time to go farther north! Make sure to make a stop in the picturesque town of Tain before climbing up to the northernmost town on mainland Britain: John O’Groats. After you’ve explored and taken some photos at the famous sign, head to Scrabster and hop on the ferry to Stromness, Orkney. While many seem to think these northern islands don’t need much time to discover, I would recommend spending a good portion of time here. There is so much to see in Orkney that’s concentrated in such a small space that it’s impossible to get bored!
After you’ve spent a few days in Orkney, it’s time to make your way back to the mainland and head to Durness to explore the Smoo Cave and drink some delicious hot chocolate at Cocoa Mountain. From Durness, head to Ullapool, which is a perfect jumping off point to explore the beautiful Isle of Skye. While Skye is definitely firmly on the tourist radar, many only go for a day trip. Because the isle is actually fairly large, I would recommend spending a couple of days on Skye, maybe finding some good, long walks to take and exploring its biggest town of Portree.
After you’ve wandered around the Isle of Skye, it’s time to head farther south to the town of Fort William. If you’re feeling particularly brave and fit, why not try to summit Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak? From Fort William, delve a little further into Scotland’s beautiful natural scenery and connect with nature in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. There are a number of hikes and watersports to keep you entertained here for a few days.
From the park, it’s time to ease back into city life with a visit to Glasgow — Scotland’s largest city. While Glasgow might have a bit of a hard and gritty reputation, particularly compared to Edinburgh, it is seeing a rebirth and has an amazing live music scene. After you’ve spent some time getting to know Glasgow, this Scotland road trip comes to an end back in Edinburgh.
Planning the perfect Scotland road trip itinerary can be difficult. Though the country is small, there is so much to see and it can be hard to fit it all in.
Before setting off on your Scotland trip, make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy. We personally used World Nomads for our 10-Day Scotland itinerary however it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads!
Are you planning a Scottish itinerary? Where are you planning on visiting Let us know if the comments!