From cool cities to crazy traditions to surreal landscapes and everything else in between, Scotland has a lot to offer to individuals willing to take a drive through its famous roads and less trodden paths. With an out-of-this-world landscape, a Scottish road trip adventure is one that blends history with culture, arts, and natural beauty. From the Highlands and Islands in the north to the Central Lowlands in the middle and the Southern Uplands down south, there are plenty of sights and experiences to etch in one’s memory. And if you’re ready to start your Scottish adventure, we’d recommend 7 of the best road trips to take in Scotland.
East Scottish Trail
If you’re yearning for the true flavors of Scotland, then the eastern region is the best place to have your road trip adventures. There are castles along fantastic coastlines. Breweries dot the landscape interspersed with fabulous beaches. It’s a fabulous combination of whisky and walks and of cashmere and cathedrals. This 396-mile route stretches from Edinburgh to Aberdeen before driving to Scotland’s whisky-making region of Speyside, and then back to Edinburgh.
The Scottish capital has a lot of hidden gems that await those who dare explore beyond the city’s usual attractions. There’s Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and the Royal Mile. Drive towards the Kingdom of Fife through the Fife Coastal Route until you get to the West Sands on St. Andrews. From the town center, you’ll drive by Eden Mill Distillery & Brewery. We suggest having a sip of their famous Scotch whisky.
An important part of this road trip is a visit to the UNESCO City of Design, Dundee. The cultural scene in this city is so vibrant you’ll wonder if you’re still in Scotland. Continue driving through the Angus Coastal Route and get mesmerized by the sheltered bays, fantastic cliffs, and quaint harbor towns. As you reach Aberdeen, don’t forget to stop by the Harbor. Drive inland and look for Castle Fraser and Strathisla Distillery. The rest of the journey takes you through Elgin, Royal Deeside, Highland Perthshire, and Pitlochry. From there, it’s a fascinating drive back to Edinburgh.
West Scotland Adventures
If the eastern section of Scotland doesn’t appeal to you, then its western half should. From Glasgow to Glen Coe & Isle of Skye, there are striking islands and mystical lochs to titillate your curiosity. Would you be able to solve the Loch Ness mystery with absolute finality? There are castles, towering mountains, and seafood specialties, too. And like the East Scottish Trail, get ready with your stamina as there are 341 miles to cover.
The huge personality of Glasgow makes the perfect starting point for this semi-epic journey. The Lighthouse and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum are must-sees. And before you start on your road trip, why not shop ‘til you drop in Glasgow’s famed Bynes Road. Fill your stomach with plenty of tasty foods and drinks on Ashton Lane. As you leave Glasgow and head towards Loch Lomond, you’ll appreciate the change of scenery and the freshness of the air filling your lungs. Continue towards Oban and take the Calmac ferry so you can reach the Isle of Mull. Look for Duart Castle and McCaig’s Tower. Before you hop on to the next leg of the trip, enjoy some flavorsome feasts that are brimming with seafood delights.
As you reach Glencoe, you’ll feel like a puny being in the company of giants. Ancient glaciers have turned this landscape into an otherworldly place. The section from Glencoe to the Isle of Skye is one of the Highland’s most spellbinding landscapes.
The Castle Trail
There are more than 300 castles that dot the Aberdeenshire landscape. No wonder they call it the Castle Country of Scotland. Nineteen of the most dramatic and most famous of these castles have their foothold on the Scottish Castle Trail. Stretching some 311 miles, this route takes you from Stonehaven along the North Sea coast to Craigievar in the western corner of Aberdeenshire.
Stonehaven mesmerizes adventurers with the iconic Dunnottar Castle, nestled atop a 160-foot high cliff. For a more fairytale-like castle, Banchory offers the Crathes Castle. Outside Drumoak is the Drum Castle, known for its superb paintings and furniture. North of Aberdeen in Sauchen is Castle Fraser. This fortification is famous for being Mar’s grandest. The 16th century Tolquhon Castle in Tarves is one of the Grampian countryside’s most picturesque. From Aberdeen, head towards Turrif and marvel at the Scottish baronial architecture of the Fyvie Castle. Drive north to Delgaty and learn more about the 11th century Delgatie Castle. The Kinnaird Head Castle in Fraserburgh boasts of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
The towns of Banff, Huntly, Dufftown, and Elgin also have their respective castles to showcase. There’s the Duff House in Banff, the Huntly Castle, the Spynie Castle in Elgin, and the Balvenie Castle. The latter also happens to be one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles. Other castles that you should visit on this road trip include Kildrummy, Leith Hall, Corgaff, Braemar, Balmoral, and Craigievar Castles. The latter is one of Scotland’s most beloved and most iconic castles. It features turrets, high corbelling work, and gargoyles to inspire you.
Harry Potter Dream Route
The 225-mile stretch from Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands offers spectacular scenery, fantastic eats, and vibrant culture. However, a more important distinction for this route is that it follows the inspiration of one of the contemporary times’ most celebrated writers, J. K. Rowling. As such, fans of Harry Potter will love taking this dream route.
The cobbled streets, medieval architecture, and winding alleys of Edinburgh provided JK Rowling with the necessary elements to plot Harry’s adventures with his pals. Head to The Elephant House, where the Harry Potter legend began. The spine-tingling graveyard, Greyfriars Kirkyard, is a must-visit. Three of the personalities buried here have references to the Potter saga – Thomas Riddell, Elizabeth Moodie, and William McGonagall. Spend an evening at the Balmoral Hotel where Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ last chapter. From Edinburgh, drive to Fort William and check out Hedwig’s friends at the Scottish Owl Center and Ron Weasley’s Ford Anglia at the Bo’ness Motor Museum.
Leave your car at Fort William and take the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig. This is the very same Hogwarts Express that Harry and the rest of his pals take from Platform 9 ¾. Loch Shiel should be a magnificent sight through the window; as is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Have lunch at Mallaig before you head back to Fort William and take your car. From here, you can explore the other misty and mysterious landscapes in the Harry Potter saga. From Steal Falls to Glen Coe and Glen Etive, there’s so much Harry Potter magic to explore.
Malt Whisky Trail
The only trail of its kind on the planet, this 74-mile stretch offers you a unique experience of Scotland’s most famous whisky-producing region – Speyside. There are 7 world-famous breweries and distilleries along the route, including one historic. After this drive from Glenlivet to Forres, you’ll own the bragging rights to having journeyed the world’s Malt Whisky Country.
The Glenlivet Distillery opens your road trip right in the heart of the whisky-making region. From Glenlivet, drive towards Knockando and sample the spirits of Cardhu Distillery. Drive some 9 miles to Dufftown and discover what the Speyside Cooperage has to offer. Witness how Speyside whisky-makers create barrels using only traditional methods and tools. You may also want to know that Dufftown is the world’s Malt Whisky Capital. A must-visit is the Glenfiddich Distillery.
Your journey should also take you to the Glen Grant Distillery in Rothes and the Strathisla Distillery in Keith. The latter is the Highland’s oldest operating distillery, having started making whiskies in 1786. Find out if you can bring home a Strathisla 12-Year Old or a Chivas Regal Premium. In Elgin, Glen Moray Distillery can provide you with the famous Fifth Chapter Tour. Benromach Distillery in Forres is a must for lovers of everything organic. This distillery is famous for producing the world’s first organic single malt whisky. Your Malt Whisky Trail road trip is never complete without the Dallas Dhu Historic Distillery. It may already be closed, but it still opens its doors to those who want to learn more about its checkered past.
Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
With 165 miles of dramatic cliff tops and enchanting coves, the North Sea coast of Aberdeenshire makes for a fantastic Scottish road trip. This 120-mile journey may pale in comparison to the others in this list but it’s for the adventurer who loves seaside wildlife, clifftop castles, coastal walks, and spectacular sea views.
The Dunnottar Castle ruins should be a marvelous way to start the road trip. This castle in St. Cyrus beams from its perch high up on a sea cliff. Don’t forget to drop by the stunning coastal village of Stonehaven for the freshest seafood and luxurious ice cream. From St. Cyrus, make your way up north and make a stopover at the Ythan Estuary. You’ll see seals basking in the sand. Then there’s Slains Castle at Cruden Bay. It’s believed that this fortification is what inspired Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula.
Fraserburgh provides a taste of what it’s like to live in Europe’s biggest shellfish port. It’s best to spend a day or two sampling out the many seafood delicacies that the restaurants in the area have to offer. The Macduff Marine Aquarium is a must-visit if you have kids. But if not, you can always skip onto the Duff House in Banff. If you time your road trip well, you’ll join the annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy. Otherwise, there’s always the Cullen beach to unwind at while savoring a Portsoy ice cream.
North Coast 500
Although it is not as long as US Route 66, the North Coast is the best thing that Scotland can offer for those who want the ultimate road trip in this fabled land. With 500 miles covering some of the wildest sceneries of the Scottish landscape, the journey involves dissecting the Highland landscape between north and south. It also takes you northwards and then towards the east before heading back to your starting point in Inverness.
Start your journey marveling at the pristine waters that wash the shores of the Black Isle peninsula. If you’re lucky, you may see Bottlenose dolphins wishing you good luck on your road trip with their characteristic flipper gestures. Of course, there are other things you can do in this region. There are quaint villages that can give you a taste of the Highlands’ way of life. Beaches are numerous, too.
Test your driving skills as you navigate the blind bends and single-track lanes of the famous Bealach na Ba, the only Alpine pass in all of the UK. From Inverness to Applecross, you’ll need nerves of steel to maintain composure as you power your vehicle through steep slow inclines. It can be a hair-raising experience but one that will reward you at the end of the section. At 2,000 feet above sea level, you’ll find yourself gawking at the incredible views of the Outer Hebrides, Wester Ross, and Skye.
As soon as you get to Applecross, make sure to dine at the Applecross Inn and ask for their crayfish. Find time to digest your meal well as the next stage of the adventure will take you through never-ending back roads. Meandering country paths give way to dwarfish single lanes. It’s a test of situational awareness as the path runs along fabled lochs and herds of Scottish Highland cattle.
From Ullapool, drive eastwards until you reach John O’Groats, the UK’s most northerly point. A must-see is the 16th century turreted Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust. Bask in one of the land’s finest coastal scenery at Sango Beach. Imprint some memories there before you head back down south in Inverness.
The Scottish landscape comes filled with many of the world’s most fascinating things. Many of these inspire great minds, while others are perfect for soothing the soul. It would be an adventure of a lifetime if you can drive yourself on any of these Scottish roads. Marvel at the scenery that only this part of the United Kingdom can offer.
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- 5 of the Best Road Trips in Scotland – Wanderlust
- 10 of the Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Scotland – HuffPost Life