Best road trips in Scotland: 5 routes for you to drive

Scotland is likely your first thought when it comes to UK road trips.

Scotland has some of the most remote roads and dramatic scenery across the UK. Whether you make it to John O’ Groats, the Battlefield of Culloden, the Isle of Skye, or even catch a ferry to the Shetland Islands, you can expect plenty of history, culture, and wildlife en-route.

To help you pick the best road trip for you, I’ve compiled a list of the best road trips in Scotland. I’ve listed the distance, attractions to see along the way, and a suggested amount of days to spread it across.

Happy Travelling!

1. Edinburgh to Inverness

An open road in the Cairngorms National Park.
The Cairngorms National Park via Unsplash.

Route: Edinburgh – Perth – Braemar – Fodderletter – Inverness

Distance: 172 miles

Driving time: 4 hours 32 minutes

Suggested days: 4-7

The Edinburgh to Inverness route is perfect for those who want a mixture of Scottish cities and wilderness, with minimal driving and a shorter period.

I’d recommend spending a couple of days in Edinburgh beforehand, as there are just so many things to do! Make sure to visit Edinburgh Castle, climb Arthur’s Seat (at sunrise for the best views), and spend a coffee morning in the Old Town.

Edinburgh to Perth is a convenient one-hour drive, mostly on the M90. In Perth, I’d recommend stopping overnight to explore nearby Scone Palace, Huntingtower Castle, The Black Watch Castle & Museum, and The Fair Maid’s House. Perth has a lot of museums and castles nearby, so it is great for discovering the cultural and historical side of Scotland.

From Perth to Braemar is only an hour and a half’s drive, mostly on the slightly smaller A93. This part of the route is where it starts to get scenic! You will pass into the Cairngorms National Park, with viewpoints like the Devil’s Elbow to stop at along the way. Once in Braemar, pay a visit to the Highland Games Centre, Braemar Castle, or even go skiing at the Glenshee Ski Centre if conditions permit.

Braemar to Fodderletter is a leisurely hour’s drive, which switches from the A93 onto smaller roads and the A939. I’d recommend not rushing to Fodderletter and using the majority of the day to climb some of the Cairngorms Hills from Braemar. In Fodderletter, make sure to snap a few pictures of the Old Bridge of Avon – a beautiful old stone bridge.

Fodderletter to Inverness is only an hour away (so you could drive straight there to squeeze the itinerary into fewer days). Join the A9 for the quickest route and, if you aren’t designated drive, sample a scotch whiskey at The Tomatin Distillery en-route. I suggest spending a couple of days in Inverness, as there is a lot of history and scenery to discover. The Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, Inverness Castle, and the dolphin tours are particularly popular.

2. Glasgow to the Isle of Skye

A train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Glenfinnan Viaduct via Unsplash.

Route: Glasgow – Oban – Glencoe – Glenfinnan – Portree

Distance: 237 miles

Driving time: 6 hours and 23 minutes

Suggested days: 5-10

The Glasgow to the Isle of Skye route is ideal for those wanting a longer trip from a convenient city starting point. Harry Potter fans and experienced hikers should also consider this route (more on that later).

I suggest spending a least a day in Glasgow beforehand as, like Edinburgh, there are plenty of things to do. I particularly recommend Pollok Country Park, the People’s Palace, and The Lighthouse.

Glasgow to Oban is a stunning, approximately two hour and a half drive – cutting straight through the centre of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. I suggest allowing a full day for the drive so that you can stop off en-route at viewpoints and attractions. Loch Lomond is great for waterside walks, cycling, or even a Loch cruise (Sweeney’s Cruise Co embark from Alexandria). Make sure to stop at the Inveruglas Pyramid and at least one castle too.

Once you are in Oban, McCaig’s Tower and Battery is good to visit and looks surprisingly like the Colosseum, which is pretty cool! It is also ideal for boat trips, with regular porpoise, dolphin, seal, and seabird sightings.

Oban to Glencoe is a shorter one-hour drive, mostly on the coastal A82. Apart from the beaches you pass by, Castle Stalker is a unique spot to stop at. The 14th-century castle sits on a tiny island in the middle of Loch Islet, and you can book guided tours ahead of time. And, if you want to stretch your legs, the Highland Titles Nature Reserve is a pretty place to do so. Otherwise, experienced hikers can get to Glencoe nice and early to attempt nearby Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in Scotland.

Glencoe to Glenfinnan is another short drive that takes less than an hour! But you might need the reprieve if you scaled Ben Nevis the day before. Cross Ballachulish Bridge and stop by Fort William for a marine life tour and coffee break. The Treasures of the Earth is also an interesting attraction, displaying gemstones and fossils in a family-run museum. At Glenfinnan, you can trek to the Glenfinnan Viaduct and even see the Jacobite Express (eg THE Hogwarts Express!). Or, you can treat yourself to a ride and step in Harry Potter’s footsteps.

Glenfinnan to Portree is the last stretch and a respectable two-and-a-half-hour drive. I’d recommend catching the Mallaig to Armadale ferry for an added adventure and slightly shorter journey. Then, from Armadale, you can drive up through Skye, making a detour for the Fairy Pools or stopping at Armadale Castle if you wish.

At Portree, the Isle of Skye is your oyster – so don’t rush off. There are many attractions to discover on the Isle of Skye, including Kilt Rock, Mealt Falls, and Dunvegan Castle. In certain months, you can also spot orcas on special boat trips.

3. Edinburgh to John o’ Groats

John o' Groats signpost.
John o’ Groats via Unsplash.

Route: Edinburgh – Braemar – Inverness – Golspie – John o’ Groats

Distance: 275 miles

Driving time: 5 hours and 31 minutes

Suggested days: 5-10

For those chasing an ultimate road trip up the country’s length, the Edinburgh to John o’ Groats route is one of the best road trips in Scotland. It doesn’t take hours and hours but still provides lots of adventure! It is best for people who want to reach the top of Scotland or perhaps continue to the Shetland Islands for an even more off-the-beaten-path experience.

As previously stated, I’d recommend spending a least a couple of days in Edinburgh before setting off on your drive. Then, follow the same itinerary from Edinburgh to Inverness but skip the stopovers in Perth and Fodderletter.

Inverness to Golspie is an easy one-hour drive along the East coast. However, there are lots of attractions to detour for on the way! Good stop-offs include the Highland Museum of Childhood, The Highlander’s Museum, the Fyrish Monument, the Mermaid of the North, Cairn Liath, and Dunrobin Castle and Gardens. Golspie itself is a blink-and-you-miss-it village with plenty of surrounding walks and a quiet beach to enjoy the sea in warmer months.

Golspie to John o’ Groats is an hour and a half stretch up the coast, entirely on A roads. If you are looking for a short stopover, Helmsdale is a beautiful contender. Sandwiched between hills and harbour, Helmsdale has a cultural museum called Timespan and a good few cafes for a bite to eat and caffeine fix. Further along, Dunbeath Castle, the Clan Gunn Museum and Heritage Centre, Whaligoe Steps, and Castle Sinclair all warrant a visit. And, once you reach John o’Groats, an obligatory picture next to the signpost is necessary!

**To extend**

John o’ Groats to the Shetland Islands is an itinerary addition for the adventurous! You’ll need to catch the ferry from Gill’s Bay to the Orkney Islands, then an onwards ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick. But, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most remote Scottish territory, lots of orca sightings, and nearly untouched wildlife. Think of it as a Scottish Galapagos.

4. Glasgow to Argyll and Bute

A river in the Highlands.
Argyll and Bute via Unsplash.

Route: Glasgow – Inveraray – Kennacraig – Port Askaig – Oban – Craignure

Distance: 150 miles+

Driving time: 10 hours and 12 minutes

Suggested days: 7-14

Okay, this route is for the brave who want an island-hopping challenge. Some of the ferry connections are few and far between – so you’ll need to be able to stick to times and schedules. Because of limited ferry services, I’d also recommend allowing at least a week to complete this route.

Glasgow to Inveraray is a scenic overland trip cutting right through Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. The drive is only an hour and a half, so you’ll have plenty of time to take a cruise on Loch Lomond, hold a bird of prey at the Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre, or detour to the Inveruglas Pyramid. In Inveraray, there is Inveraray Castle and a historic jail-turned-museum to explore.

Inverary to Kennacraig is only an hour’s drive, but you’ll want to take your time to appreciate entering the Argyll and Bute region. This section of the route passes through many waterfront villages like Tarbet, where I suggest stopping for a coffee or a stretch of legs. Once you reach Kennacraig, you’ll take the ferry to the Isle of Islay, so you can plan an overnight stopover or plan to leave the same day.

Kennacraig to Port Askaig is an approximate two-and-a-half-hour ferry, so you’ll get to abandon your car below and head to the deck to relax. Keep your eye out for dolphins, whales, seals, and porpoises! I like to think of ferry trips as joint transport and boat tours.

Once you arrive on the Isle of Islay, plan to spend at least two days exploring – the Isle is mostly split across to main islands, so you want time to see both. Whisky lovers will appreciate the Isle of Jura Distillery on the North Island and the Bowmore and Lagavulin Distilleries on the South. And while nature lovers can embark on boat tours, history lovers can peruse the many ruin sites like Kildalton Cross.

Port Askaig to Oban is a slightly longer ferry trip at nearly four hours; however, it also stops at Colonsay if you want to incorporate a smaller Isle into your itinerary stops. Otherwise, settle in! There should be plenty of marine life to see en-route and, since the ferry launches at around 7 am, you’ll have half a day to explore Oban before dark.

If you haven’t sampled enough whisky yet, the Oban Distillery is easily accessible on foot so that drivers can let their hair down slightly. And, of course, the McCaig’s Tower and Battery Hill makes for a good few hours of exploration.

Oban to Craignure is your last ferry trip of the route and takes just over an hour. You land in Craignure – the perfect base to explore the Isle of Mull. Allow yourself at least a couple of days to do so as the Isle is one of Argyll and Bute’s biggest. Duart Castle, the Kilmore Standing Stones, Tobermory Distillery, MacQuarie’s Mausoleum, and Mackinnon’s Cave are all good places to visit.

5. Isle of Skye

The Old Man of Storr.
The Old Man of Storr via Unsplash.

Route: Portree – Duntulm – Dunvegan – Milovaig – Carbost

Distance: 99 miles

Driving time: 2 hours and 50 minutes

Suggested days: 3-7

If you want to focus on one region, the Isle of Skye is one of the best road trips in Scotland. This route could be spread out over a leisurely week or crammed into a few days.

I suggest spending no more than a day in Portree beforehand, as it is a good spot for taking wildlife spotting boat trips but otherwise quiet and more of a launchpad for day trips.

Portree to Duntulm is a short forty-five-minute drive up the coast. Make sure to drive the route via Staffin so that you can travel onwards to Dunvegan down the other side! Along the drive, you can stop to hike to Rubhan am Brathairean (Brothers Point) and Kilt Rock to watch the Mealt Falls waterfall cascade off the cliff and into the ocean. The Quiraing nature reserve is also great for more challenging hiking, whereas Rubha Hunish is a stunning, much easier walk to the Isle’s edge.

As there are so many hiking trails in this area of Skye, I’d recommend camping or getting a hotel near Duntulm for the night. In Duntulm, there is also the Castle and a beautiful viewpoint at sunset – so plenty to keep you entertained.

Duntulm to Dunvegan takes about an hour to drive and is entirely on A roads. There is a LOT to see en-route, though, so allow a day to make the drive. The Skye Museum of Life, Iron Age Souterrain, Castle Ewen, St Columba’s Isle, and Dunvegan Castle & Gardens are the best attractions for a bit of history. While, for more nature and natural beauty, the Rha Waterfalls, Fairy Glen, and Eas Tardil Waterfall make for good stops.

Dunvegan to Milovaig is only a twenty-minute drive, so it could be combined as a day trip from Dunvegan or a remote overnight stop. I’d recommend a stop at the Colbost Folk Museum for a bit of historical immersion, and, especially if you decide to stop overnight, you should complete the Neist Point Trail. Milovaig is the best place to access the Isle of Skye’s west coast, so make the most of the stop.

Milovaig to Carbost is an hour’s drive back to the central south side of Skye. I’d suggest at least stopping overnight in Carbost so that you can sample world-famous whisky at the Talisker Distillery! But, before you start whisky tasting, the Carbost Burn Waterfall is a pretty hike, and a boat trip on Loch Harport is a nice way to spend a late morning.

From Carbost, you can easily access the Fairy Pools and some of the Isle of Skye’s most famous and challenging mountains. If you’d like to tackle these natural attractions, I suggest basing yourself in or near Carbost for at least two days.

Scotland is an incredible destination for travelling by road, and these are only a few of the best road trips in Scotland! You might wish to road trip the Border, complete the North Coast 500, or even drive the circumference of Scotland (if so, I envy your ambition and bank account). 

Got any more suggestions? Drop them in the comments below.

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