- Tour the historic streets of Edinburgh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Visit ancient abbeys and medieval castles in the Scottish Highlands
- Travel to Loch Ness and see if you can spot the famous monster
- Explore the rugged coast and iconic mountains of the Isle of Skye
- Ride the "Hogwarts Express" to actual Harry Potter filming locations
|Day 1||Arrive in Edinburgh & Explore||Edinburgh|
|Day 2||Free Day in Edinburgh||Edinburgh|
|Day 3||Train to the Scottish Borders||Melrose|
|Day 4||Stirling & the Highlands||Pitlochry|
|Day 5||Inverness & Loch Ness||Inverness|
|Day 6||North to Moray, Fishing Villages & Castles||Inverness|
|Day 7||Inverness to the Northern Highlands||John o' Groats|
|Day 8||Return to Inverness||Inverness|
|Day 9||Explore the Isle of Skye||Isle of Skye|
|Day 10||Explore the Isle of Skye||Isle of Skye|
|Day 11||Ride the "Hogwarts Express"||Fort William|
|Day 12||Free Day in Fort William||Fort William|
|Day 13||Fort William to Glen Orchy & Explore Glen Coe||Bridge of Orchy|
|Day 14||Glasgow to Edinburgh & Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in Edinburgh & Explore
Welcome to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland! This historic city has two UNESCO designations, one for its medieval Old Town and another for its stately Georgian New Town. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and then will have the remainder of the day to explore on your own. Not to worry, you'll be provided with all the information necessary to find the must-see highlights.
Consider starting with the Old Quarter, home to iconic Edinburgh Castle, built at the turn of the 12th century. This fortress sits atop Castle Rock; a geological formation created hundreds of millions of years ago from a volcano eruption. Part of the fun of visiting the Old Quarter is strolling its cobbled streets and winding alleys as you admire the medieval architecture.
For a macabre yet fascinating experience, head into Edinburgh's infamous Underground City. In the 18th century, entire neighborhoods sprung up under Edinburgh's bridges. They comprised sealed-off rooms and housed the poor, criminals, and undesirables. Merchants and tradespeople also set up small, windowless shops; there were even taverns and illegal gambling halls. The rooms were paved over as the city developed, thus becoming a sealed network of catacombs and chambers.
One of the most famous of these networks is the section under South Bridge. Originally built to connect Old Town's High Street with the University buildings on the city's south side, it consisted of 19 stone arches. Vaulted chambers were constructed and used as workshops and tenement homes. You can tour these long-abandoned chambers and learn about their more lurid histories, such as the rumor that bodysnatchers once used them to store corpses overnight.
Other city sights include the Royal Mile (Old Town's main thoroughfare), the 12th-century St Giles Cathedral, Holyrood Palace (home of the British monarchy in Scotland), and Princes Street Gardens, one of the loveliest green spaces in the city. You might also be interested to know that in Scotland's capital, author J.K. Rowling began plotting the adventures of a certain boy wizard. You'll notice that the city's architecture has much in common with the settings in the books and films.
Day 2: Free Day in Edinburgh
On day two, you'll get to know Edinburgh more intimately. This is another free day to explore the city at your own pace. If you're hungry, perhaps take a gourmet food tour guided by local residents who will educate you about the history of Scottish cuisine. Famous national dishes include grouse, Cullen skink (smoked haddock soup), and haggis.
If you're a fantasy fan, you'll want to visit Elephant House Café. Known as "the birthplace of Harry Potter," this was one of author J.K. Rowling's favorite cafés in which to work when she was writing the series of books. Edinburgh is also the birthplace of other prominent literary figures and the setting for many famous novels. These include Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" and Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting." Many of Ian Rankin's detective novels are also set here.
For more insight into Scotland's literary legacy, visit the Writers' Museum. There are many exhibits dedicated to the lives and works of Scotland's great literary figures—in particular, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. There are also exhibits featuring contemporary writers.
Day 3: Train to the Scottish Borders
Today you'll hop on a train and head about an hour and a half south to Melrose. This small town is located in the Scottish Borders and is home to charming cottages and a famous abbey. The train ride is quite scenic, and along the way, you'll enjoy views of rolling green hills, thick woodlands, and some of the most stately manor homes and castles in the country.
Once in town, it's a quick walk (or even quicker three-minute bus ride) to beautiful Melrose Abbey. Built on King David 1st's order back in 1136, this pink sandstone building is an exceptional piece of Gothic architecture. Today the abbey is partly in ruins, resulting from attacks due to various conflicts with England throughout the later Middle Ages.
The next stop in Melrose is Abbotsford House. This grand baronial mansion was home to Sir Walter Scott, the 19th-century author of such classics as "Waverley" and "Ivanhoe." The house contains a vast library, decorative art, and artifacts from Scotland's long history.
If you have time, you can take a local bus a few miles south to the town of Jedburgh. Here you can stroll amid the impressive vaulted archways at Jedburgh Abbey, the ruins of a 12th-century Augustinian monastery. Also, the Mary Queen of Scots' Visitors Centre is here, which is set in a 16th-century tower house where the tragic queen stayed for a few weeks in 1566. The Jedburgh Castle Jail and Museum is a fun tour as well, as it recreates the conditions of an 1820s prison.
You'll overnight outside of Melrose at a lovely country house/B&B. For dinner, feel free to head into the village, where several good restaurants are.
Day 4: Stirling & the Highlands
In the morning, you'll return to Edinburgh and then take a train to the city of Stirling, which sits at the intersection of the highlands and lowlands of Scotland. Once the nation's capital, the city is dominated by the imposing Stirling Castle. This massive medieval landmark dates to the 12th century and has been rebuilt various times over the centuries.
You can visit the castle and other important historical sites in the area. One highlight is the 12-century Cambuskenneth Abbey, the resting place of King James III of Scotland. Nearby is the National Wallace Monument, commemorating Sir William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish hero. This scrappy freedom fighter was brought to the wider world's attention by the 1995 film "Braveheart."
Continue north by train and stop at the pretty town of Perth, situated on the banks of the River Tay. It's known as "The Fair City" due to the 1828 novel "Fair Maid of Perth," written by Sir Walter Scott. Perth is also famous for Scone Abbey, home of the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny), where Scottish monarchs were crowned for centuries.
After touring Perth, you'll get back on the train for your final trip of the day: to Pitlochry, a pretty village on the River Tummel. Here you'll visit one of the smallest whisky distilleries in Scotland to learn more about this time-honored tradition. You'll overnight around Pitlochry, either in a cozy guest house or lakeside castle.
Day 5: Inverness & Loch Ness
Today you'll continue your journey north, passing through the mountains of Cairngorms National Park to the city of Inverness. You'll visit the city's 19th-century Episcopal Cathedral and its red sandstone castle on this brief stop. Interestingly, the Inverness Castle was built in 1836 on the site of an 11th-century defensive structure.
Afterward, you'll head a couple of miles south to one of Scotland's most famous sights, Loch Ness, home to the mythical Loch Ness Monster. The locale itself is beautiful, and you can enjoy pleasant walks around the lake or visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle, which dates to the 14th century. Urquhart's lakeside position makes it a great place to snap photos. Another optional activity is to embark on a boat trip on the lake, which offers even more stunning views.
After enjoying Loch Ness, you'll return to Inverness by train and overnight in the city.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: North to Moray, Fishing Villages & Castles
In the morning, hop on a bus and head a short way northeast of Inverness to explore the countryside near the inlet of Moray Firth. The first stop is the historic village of Forres. This town enjoys royal burgh status (a designation that was bestowed by the Crown on certain Scottish towns in the Middle Ages) and once had its own royal castle. There are still many historic sights here and fun things to do.
For example, head to the top of Cluny Hill and enjoy the views from atop Nelson's Tower. Built in 1806 as a memorial to British hero Admiral Nelson, the tower's top deck offers stunning panoramic views. This includes vistas of the forests and coastline of Moray Speyside, which is known as "whisky country" due to the fact it's home to more than half of Scotland's whisky distilleries. Also, to the north, you'll see the glittering Moray Firth and the distant hills of Caithness.
After Forres, continue east to the historic town of Elgin, the largest community in Moray Speyside. For centuries, Elgin has been a bustling town with stories and history around every corner. On a walking tour, head to the ruins of Elgin Castle, which was destroyed in 1308 shortly after the death of William Wallace. You can also visit the Elgin Cathedral, which dates from 1224.
While in Elgin, book a free tour of 220-year-old Johnston's Mill, which has been producing fine cashmere since 1797. The tour reveals the manufacturing process of transforming raw cashmere into clothing and apparel sold by famous international designers. Additionally, you can book a boat trip out into the Moray Firth to view dolphins frolicking in the water.
After a day spent sightseeing, you'll undoubtedly have worked up an appetite. There are plenty of dining options in and around Elgin, as the rich, fertile region of Moray Speyside produces world-class food and drink. Here you'll find many tearooms, pubs, and restaurants to satisfy every taste.
Day 7: Inverness to the Northern Highlands
Today, you'll take a scenic railway journey to the northern Scottish Highlands, which you'll get to explore over two unforgettable days. The train in question is the Far North Line, famous for being Britain's northernmost railway. It's run by a national train company that connects Inverness with the towns of Thurso and Wick at the northern limits of the Highlands.
The full journey takes around four hours and passes hundreds of miles of beautiful and diverse landscapes. These include everything from peatland bogs and tiny hamlets to the gates of the stately Dunrobin Castle. This massive royal residence boasts 189 rooms, making it the largest castle in the Northern Highlands.
But the train ride itself is the real star. The unspoiled landscapes you'll see on this trip exude a haunting beauty and serene atmosphere unique to this corner of the world. Sit back, relax, and watch as the dramatic Highland terrain unfolds before your eyes. And if the mood strikes, hop off at any stop along the way for a memorable detour before hopping on the next train to continue the journey.
After the ride ends, you'll transfer a short way to the charming seaside village of John o' Groats, on the northeastern tip of Great Britain. This is where you'll overnight.
Day 8: Return to Inverness
In the morning, you'll leave John o' Groats and hop back on the Far North Line for the return trip to Inverness. Sit back and enjoy the scenery on the 4-hour ride back. You can get off at any stop en route and explore areas you might have missed on the previous day's journey.
Sights you'll want to look out for include: Skibo Castle, once the home of industrialist Andrew Carnegie; Carbisdale Castle, the Duchess of Sutherland's residence; and Balblair Wood, a lovely nature reserve that's a haven for birds, deer, and pine martens. Also, consider stopping at Dunrobin Castle Station to see the famous seat of the earls and dukes of Sutherland. Upon arrival in Inverness, you'll check into your hotel and have the evening free.
Day 9: Explore the Isle of Skye
Get ready for another scenic train trip. Today you'll ride the Kyle Line, which runs west from Inverness toward the Isle of Skye. The 2.5-hour route passes through charming Highland villages such as Achnasheen and Plockton before arriving in Kyle of Lochalsh. You'll pass stretches of ruggedly beautiful coastline and tranquil lochs set amid a backdrop of unspoiled Highland peaks.
Upon arrival in the seaside town of Kyle of Lochalsh, you'll leave the train and hop on a local bus. After a brief ride over the rollercoaster-like parabola of Skye Bridge, you'll arrive on the island of the same name. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, filled with dramatic coasts and gorgeous mountain scenery. The best part is that you'll have the whole day to explore independently.
There are several short hikes and places of interest on Skye. You can ride a local bus to the stone ruins of villages like Boreraig and Suisnish to admire the stunning coastal views. Or perhaps take a small ferry from the southwestern village of Elgol to Loch Coruisk. The trip passes breathtaking scenery, including romantic islets on your way to the loch nestled amid the sharp ridges of the Cuillin Hills. Along the way, you'll spot exotic seabirds like oystercatchers, puffins, and herons. You'll also see plenty of seals and maybe even a basking shark or two.
For more untamed landscapes, cross over from the south of Skye to the Isle of Rùm and enjoy a few hours of hiking. Whatever you decide, you'll have all the information you need to get the most out of this incredible region. At the end of the day, retire to your small guest house in the town of Broadford, on Skye's north coast.
Day 10: Explore the Isle of Skye
For your second day on Skye, you'll take a private tour of the island by car. It's the best and most efficient way to visit many must-see sights as possible. You'll first visit the geological wonder of Trotternish, the northernmost peninsula on the island. Here you'll see Old Man of Storr (featured in the movie "Prometheus"), an otherworldly rock pinnacle overlooking the Sound of Raasay.
Continue a short way north up the coast to Kilt Rock, massive basalt columns that tower 295 feet (90 m) over the coast and resemble a Scottish kilt. Mealt Falls also plunges 200 feet (60 m) over the cliffs to the rocky coast below. Next, visit the strange landscape of Quiraing, the northernmost summit on Trotternish. This volcanic wonder is one of the most beautiful sites on Skye.
Continue west across the island to Dunvegan, the only remaining inhabited castle on the island. Home to Clan MacLeod for the last 800 years, the castle was rebuilt in the 19th century. A tour of the property and its five acres of colorful gardens is an unforgettable way to learn the history of the longest continuously occupied castle in the country. At the end of the tour, you'll return to your guesthouse and will have the evening free.
Day 11: Ride the "Hogwarts Express"
In the morning, a local bus will take you to the harbor, where you'll catch a ferry to the fishing village of Mallaig. This is the last stop on the line for the Jacobite, a steam train that runs along the Western Highlands from the town of Fort William to Mallaig and vice versa. The journey covers 84 miles (135 km) round trip and features some of the most beautiful landscapes in Scotland.
Upon arrival in Mallaig, you'll have over an hour and a half until the train arrives. In the interim, feel free to walk around and take in the atmosphere of this lovely harbor village. There are shops, pubs, restaurants, and plenty of fish and chips to enjoy while waiting for your train.
When the Jacobite does arrive, you might notice it looks familiar. It was featured in the "Harry Potter" films as the Hogwarts Express, which carried Harry from platform 9¾ to Hogwarts. The wizard theme continues once you board the train, as the Jacobite passes over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was also in the films. Other incredible sights on the ride include Loch Shiel and Loch Etive—more key locations in the movies.
The train passes by Eilean na Moine, an enchanting islet at the end of Loch Eilt. This was the filming location for Dumbledore's final resting place and the setting of the scene in which Harry finds Hagrid skipping stones on the water in "Prisoner of Azkaban." At the end of the 42-mile (67-km) ride, you'll arrive in Fort William. Here you'll check into a lovely boutique hotel in the town center and have the rest of the day free.
Day 12: Free Day in Fort William
Fort William is a charming little town surrounded by stunning scenery—located below Ben Nevis, the highest summit in Scotland. The town is often described as the "Outdoor Capital of the UK" and is a popular base for active excursions.
For example, you can start the day with a hike to the incredible Steall Falls, a 393-foot (120-m) waterfall that has been featured in a few "Harry Potter" films. Take a taxi seven miles (11 km) down Ben Nevis Road to the trailhead to get there. Then it's an easy 2-mile (3.5-km) roundtrip hike. When you reach the falls, you might recognize them as the backdrop during Quidditch matches and the setting for Harry's battle against a Hungarian Horntail dragon in "Goblet of Fire." Steall Falls is also the second-highest waterfall in Britain.
Another optional tour is a guided hike up Ben Nevis. A relatively easy trek, it can be difficult in poor weather. It starts from about sea level and ascends 4,500 feet (1,371 m) on a trail that takes about four hours to reach the summit. Along the way, your guide will share the rich history of Ben Navis, plus details of its landscapes, including how the surrounding flora changes with the increase in altitude.
Day 13: Fort William to Glen Orchy & Explore Glen Coe
Take a local bus south from Fort William into Glen Coe in the morning. This volcanic valley is regarded as one of the most beautiful stretches of scenery in the Scottish Highlands. The dramatic splendor of the region lies in its rolling green hills and soaring peaks. The silver waterfalls that cascade stream down the rugged mountain slopes only add to the natural beauty.
Glen Coe is also one of the most photographed mountain landscapes in the country. It's been featured in various TV shows and movies, including "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Major landmarks here include Buachaille Etive Mòr, a pyramidal mountain that stands 3,351 feet (1,021 m) like a sentry over the glen. Its peaks like this have made Glen Coe popular with hikers and climbers throughout the country.
You'll disembark in Glen Coe and have three hours to explore the area. Beyond short hikes around the mountains, optional activities include detours to several beautiful lochs. There's a visitor center here to learn more about the area, plus you can enjoy a traditional Highland lunch at the Clachaig Inn, known for its homemade haggis. Afterward, hop on another bus and continue to nearby Glen Orchy and the small village of Bridge of Orchy, where you'll overnight.
Day 14: Glasgow to Edinburgh & Depart
Head south today by bus via Loch Lomond and admire the scenery of Trossachs National Park. This protected region is home to beautiful lakes, wooded glens, and rushing rivers. Upon arrival in the village of Balloch, you'll transfer to a train for the hour ride to Glasgow.
On a brief stopover in Glasgow, you can visit some of the city's famous landmarks. One can't-miss highlight is the Glasgow Cathedral. Built in 1197, it is an impressive example of Gothic architecture. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum also opened in 1901 and is Glasgow's most popular tourist attraction. It's a striking piece of architecture fashioned out of red sandstone in the Spanish Baroque style.
After your brief stop in Glasgow, continue by train to Edinburgh, where your grand Scottish adventure comes to an end.
More Great Scotland Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Scotland? Check out these other Scotland itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.