Scotland is a magical yet mysterious country which allows visitors to see the splendors of the natural realm – postcard-perfect landscapes, spectacular mountain ranges, snowy peaks, numerous castles and cathedrals. Given its stunning backdrop and grand scale wilderness, it’s not surprising that many tourists comes back for more. Our 8-day suggested itinerary showcases the best of Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands and what are the things you can accomplish in 1 week. Depending on your interests and travel priorities, you can certainly mix and match destinations, activities, and attractions.
Things to know before traveling to Scotland:
Language – English is the official language in Scotland, although you will be surprised by many other different languages spoken across the country.
Money and cost – The official currency of Scotland is the Pound Sterling (GBP) , the same currency used in the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland is a well-developed country with a good banking and financial infrastructure. This means, exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Europe. You may transact with banks, foreign exchange bureaus and hotels. You may also use debit cards and credit cards but watch out for ATM fees and foreign transaction fees, which can be very high per transaction. It is also good to know that there are plentiful of ATMs available throughout the country so you will surely have easy access to cash.
Etiquette – The Scottish people are modest, traditional and conservative so it’s important to remember some do’s and don’ts to enjoy a faux pas free journey. In social meetings, people shake hands and maintain eye contact (avoid anything prolonged). Another important reminder, especially for first time visitors, is remember not to call someone Scots, Welsh, or Northern Irish ‘English’. ‘English’ denotes someone who is from England so it is more appropriate to use ‘British’ as it refers to people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Getting there – Edinburgh International Airport is the busiest airport in Scotland. Situated only 10 miles west of the city it offers easy connection of Edinburgh to the rest of the world. There are pretty amazing deals from the US and especially from Boston – we were able to find a round-trip ticket to Edinburgh for less than 500 USD (flying with the low-budget WOW though Reykjavik)! From London – a round-trip starts at 50 USD; Amsterdam – 114 USD; from Moscow – only 287 USD; from Tokyo, Hong Kong or Manila – 1100 USD and up; from Rio de Janeiro – 680 USD.
Getting around – Travelling within Scotland is a piece of cake as all roads are well-maintained and the public transport system is one of Europe’s finest. And of course, there can be no better way of exploring the country than to board a train traversing otherworldly landscapes brimming with delightful wildlife.
Where to stay – There’s a great variety of accommodation in Scotland, ranging from small family-run pensions to five-star luxury hotels. In almost any town, there’s something for every level of comfort and budget.
Detailed Itinerary 8 Days in Scotland
Day 1: Edinburgh
Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Edinburgh, or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. Assuming you arrived in the afternoon, you can spend your time wandering the labyrinth of narrow streets of Edinburgh. The opportunity for incredible photographs is endless during this walking tour, so frequent stops are recommended to enjoy its medieval streets.
Where to stay in Edinburgh:
Edinburgh’s numerous castles, cathedrals and its narrow cobblestone streets inspired authors like J.K Rowling. You will not be short of amazing things to look at and to experience. Since Edinburgh is a relatively small city, it is easy to explore on foot. Do not miss the Edinburgh Castle, National Museum of Scotland and the Royal Mile. If you are up for a great adventure, join a ghost tour at the Greyfriars Cemetery. Go after dark for a truly creepy experience!
Day 2: Edinburgh
If breakfast is not yet included in the price of your accommodation, then start your second day in Edinburgh by going to one of the best breakfast and brunch spots in this medieval Old Town. Try The King’s Wark, Café Marlayne, Falko Konditormeister and Roseleaf. A complete Scottish breakfast often includes yogurt, porridge, sausage, toast, baked beans fruits and tea.
After breakfast, immense yourself in Scottish Art at Scottish National Gallery (The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL, United Kingdom). Then make your way to Princes Street Gardens situated at the foot of Edinburgh Castle. This impressive park separates the Old and New Town. After lunch, head to Jenners, Edinburgh’s best-loved department store, for some retail therapy. Then, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the town’s other attractions like West End Village, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Riddle’s Court (an A-listed former merchant’s house near to Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile).
Day 3: Edinburgh – Fort William
Get up early and do not leave without seeing the magnificent sunrise at Arthur’s Seat, one of the seven hills of Edinburgh. Featuring breathtaking views of the town and beautiful hills, the peak of Arthur’s Seat can be reached after only 10-15 minutes of hiking. Then, get immersed in the history of Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat by visiting Saint Anthony’s Chapel, Salisbury Crags and Duddingston Loch.
Then of course, it’s up to Fort William, where you will be spending one day, but you can definitely stay longer. The choice is yours! After lunch, depart Edinburgh and travel past the famous Scottish Highlands. Situated on the shores of Loch Linnhe under the highest mountain in Scotland, Ben Nevis, Fort William is well-known as ‘Outdoor Capital of the United Kingdom’. Check in at your preferred accommodation in the town center and take in some sights like Ben Nevis, West Highland Museum and Jacobite Steam Train.
To get to Fort William from Edinburgh, hop on the train that runs via Glasgow. Travel time is approximately 5 hours and one way fare costs 30 – 70 GBP (43-100 USD) depending on the season. For time table and train ticket information, visit ScotRail website.
Where to stay in Fort William:
Day 4: Fort William – Isle of Skye
On day 4, embark on one of the most scenic train journeys in the world by boarding the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig. The 1-hour train ride takes you past the most photographed of Scotland’s Highlands and will terminate at Mallaig, the gateway to the Isle of Skye. One-way train ticket costs 29 GBP (42 USD) for standard class ticket and 53 GBP (77 USD) for first class (up-to-date rates and schedule can be found on West Coast Railways website). Upon arrival, take in some sights and enjoy some fish and chips during lunch time.
After lunch, board the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale (Isle of Skye). For time table and ferry ticket information, visit CalMac website. The Isle of Skye offers a wide choice accommodation from luxury hotels to camping/caravan sites, including several options of Self Catering cottage and Bed & Breakfast. First time visitors are recommended to stay in Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye, as it is a perfect base for exploring the rest of the island. It is, however, encouraged to book in advance because all accommodation, including hostels, runs out quickly. Check in to your preferred accommodation and take in some sights in the afternoon.
Where to stay in Portree:
Day 5: Isle of Skye
Undoubtedly one of the best travel experiences in Scotland is a spectacular hike up to The Old Man of Storr, located in the area on the north of Skye called ‘Trotternish’. The Storr is the most famous hiking trip on the Island so expect it to be the busiest. Created by a massive ancient landslide, the Storr features a number of weirdly shaped rock pinnacles. The opportunity for incredible photographs is endless during the tour, so frequent stops are recommended for visitors to enjoy the landscape.
Day 6: Isle of Skye – Inverness
On day 6, depart Isle of Skye and make your way to Inverness, the capital of the highlands. Unless you hired a car, your best option to get to Inverness is to take the bus number 915, 916 or 917 to Kyle and then hop on a train to Inverness. The Train takes less than 3 hours and one-way tickets start at 5 GBP (7.20 USD) for advanced purchase and they go up to 23 GBP (33.40 USD) so plan ahead of time.
After check in at your preferred accommodation, take a stroll around the beautiful city. Frequent travelers would agree that Inverness is a perfect walking city. Even without a rigid itinerary, you will definitely enjoy strolling in its delightful streets.
Where to stay in Inverness:
Day 7: Inverness
A blend of history, culture and adventures, Inverness offers endless possibilities for every type of travelers. It boasts a certain charm that transports every visitors to a time of the early Celts and Picts, Vikings, monarchs, royals, nobles and great explorers. Some of the famous attractions of Inverness are River Ness, the Highlanders’ Museum, Eden Court Theatre and St. Andrews Cathedral. And of course, the most famous attraction in the area is the Loch Ness, located only 23 miles from Inverness.
Day 8: Inverness – Edinburgh
Today marks the end of your adventure in Scotland. Taking in to consideration that you still need to travel back to Edinburgh from Inverness (about three and a half hours, depending whether you take on a train or bus to Edinburgh), consider booking an international flight back home in the evening. Spend the rest of your day checking out some attractions in the scenic Edinburgh that you might have missed. Fit in one last amazing lunch or dinner in the Old or New town. You could even squeeze in some souvenir shopping before you travel to the airport. Head to the airport in time to check in for your international flight home, or you may opt to continue traveling independently, or extend your stay in Scotland.
This is the end of our 8-day suggested itinerary to Scotland. If the pace gets too hectic, just chill out and prioritize which area you would really like to visit. Take time to interact with the locals as they provide the best advice when it comes to traveling in their country. This part of the United Kingdom may seem too big and distant, but it is a great travel destination rich in world class scenery.
Have you been to Scotland? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: View of Edinburgh castle from Calton Hill Edinburgh Scotland (SAKhanPhotography / Bigstockphoto)